Azerbaijani, Ukrainian presidents attend business forum in Baku [UPDATE]
An Azerbaijan-Ukraine business forum has been held in Baku.
President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, who is on an official visit in Azerbaijan, attended the forum.
The presidents made speeches at the forum.
Speech of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev
- Dear Mr. President!
Dear guests, ladies and gentlemen!
Today, over 90 companies from Ukraine and more than 100 companies from Azerbaijan are represented at the Azerbaijani-Ukrainian business forum. These figures are quite indicative. They are evidence of the great interest in such a business forum. In truth, Ukrainian-Azerbaijani business forums have not been held for a long time. I must also note that the intergovernmental commission has not been functioning for a long time. Today, during President Zelensky’s visit, these issues were discussed in great detail. Trade and economic issues occupied a special place among the issues discussed.
On the whole, I believe that the President’s visit is very successful. Today we held a very wide exchange of views and signed several important documents. The main thing is that the mutual trust that has arisen between us will, I am sure, play an important role in the development of Ukrainian-Azerbaijani relations.
With regard to economic relations, there is tremendous untapped potential. Today we exchanged views on this and saw that despite the increase in trade this year, we can’t be pleased with absolute figures. In particular, Azerbaijan’s exports to Ukraine are lop-sided, i.e. they are formed on the basis of energy resources. We would very much like to diversify our exports to Ukraine, and several steps have been taken for this purpose, including the opening of the Trade House of Azerbaijan in Kyiv last year. I believe that there should be many such trading houses, and the Trade Center of Ukraine has opened in Baku today. This is a wonderful event.
Thus, very important steps will be taken to promote mutual trade. At the same time, I believe that we can enter a new stage in investment issues. Over the past 15 years, investments in the amount of $270 billion have been made in Azerbaijan. Half of this is foreign investment. This suggests that our country has a great investment environment. The interests of foreign investors and the funds invested here are protected by the state.
The investment climate in Ukraine is also improving. We are seeing this, and there are major plans related to large investments and privatization. Mr. President and I talked about this. I believe that Azerbaijani companies should actively participate in various investment projects. We agreed that a meeting of the joint intergovernmental commission will be held in Ukraine at the beginning of next year. We must seriously prepare for the meeting of this commission. Representatives of both government agencies and the private sector should take part in the meeting. There should be concrete results of the work of this commission, after which we should be informed about this.
Business circles are very sensitive. Usually they are very scrupulous and cautious in investing matter, wait for appropriate signals from government agencies. I believe that our joint participation in this business forum with President Zelensky is an excellent signal to business circles. I believe that they should understand this correctly and draw the right conclusions. And the result should be that our economic ties become closer. There are very wide opportunities for cooperation. I mentioned investment. At the same time, in Azerbaijan and Ukraine there are great opportunities in the tourism sector. Our countries have a very rich and picturesque nature, developed infrastructure, so it is necessary to pay attention to this area.
Cooperation in agriculture can be successfully continued. Of course, the level of today's cooperation cannot satisfy us. We are open to cooperation in all areas, and I believe that this visit will play a very important role in resolving these issues.
As for the development of the economic situation in Azerbaijan, I must inform the Ukrainian guests – I have already noted this – that the investment climate in our country is very positive, and the volume of investment clearly demonstrates this. Over the past 15 years, rapid economic growth has occurred in Azerbaijan. I can say that the economy has more than tripled. That is, the gross domestic product has increased by more than 300 percent and, of course, this has allowed us the opportunity to increase our economic power and implement infrastructure projects. Whereas poverty was at about 50 percent 15 years ago, today it is at 5 percent. In other words, this indicates that income from natural resources is distributed evenly in society and all segments of society have benefited from this.
This year we initiated a major social package. The wide social package covered about half of our population – 4.2 million people. The minimum wage was doubled, the minimum pension increased by 70 percent, some benefits by 50 percent, some by 100 percent, and the Azerbaijani state once again demonstrated the essence of its policy. Our policies are centered on the people of Azerbaijan, as we channel the additional incomes received primarily into social projects. At the same time, of course, infrastructure projects also occupy an important place.
In order to characterize the business environment, I should note that 85 percent of the Azerbaijani economy is formed in the private sector. This means that the broad privatization process is already being completed. Only strategic assets remain in state monopoly. For example, the State Oil Company, our energy company, the water company, the road construction company, the railway, the Caspian Shipping Company, AZAL, our airline, and several other companies. Except for them, all other agencies operate in the private sector and, of course, this creates a wonderful climate for foreign investors.
The recent tax and customs reforms are yielding results. These areas were very problematic in our country. But over the past few years, very serious reforms have been carried out, and these areas have already become transparent, and businesses immediately responded to this positively. In 11 months of this year, tax and customs authorities contributed over $600 million to the treasury in excess of the plan. Our external debt is very low, accounting for only 17 percent of the gross domestic product. According to this indicator, Azerbaijan ranks ninth in the world. Our foreign exchange reserves are five times higher than our external debt. In other words, we can zero out our external debt at any time. According to a recent report of the International Development Association, Azerbaijan has become a donor country. So now we are a lending country, not a borrower. We invest in other countries ourselves. These investments exceed $20 billion. On our initiative, very important energy and transport projects have been implemented in the region. We received the financial support of foreign banks in the implementation of these projects – European and Asian banks. Thanks to this support and our internal resources, we have linked the Caspian Sea with the Black and Mediterranean Seas via oil pipelines. At the same time, the construction of a gas line with a length of 3,500 kilometers from Azerbaijan to Europe is drawing to a close. Next year we will celebrate its opening and thus Azerbaijan will have a say in the world not only as an exporter of oil, but also as an exporter of gas.
In parallel with this, we are exporting electricity, including to Europe. Growing energy generation capacities allow us the opportunity – of course, we have met our domestic needs – to contribute to the energy security of other countries.
One of the issues discussed today is related to transport, and there are also broad opportunities for cooperation. If we can connect the transport infrastructure of Ukraine with the transport infrastructure of Azerbaijan and pursue a unified tariff policy, then, I believe, the volume of cargo transportation through the territories of our countries will dramatically increase. We see growth compared to last year, but we believe that it can be even more impressive.
Azerbaijan is a country with no access to the world ocean. However, despite this, we have turned Azerbaijan into an international transport and logistical center with very large investment projects, and the East-West and North-South transport corridors passing through our country increase this role of ours. These projects have given an impetus to other projects, including the North-West and South-West transport corridors. So all these routes pass through the territory of Azerbaijan. These projects are not purely economic and transport in nature; in a broad sense, they contribute to international cooperation because the countries located along these corridors rise to the status of natural allies. Thus, these projects also serve security, well-being and mutual understanding. I believe that, taking into account all these positive principles, we will be able to increase our trade and implement large-scale investment projects in a short period of time. This business forum will therefore have tangible results. We want it and believe in it. I wish the businessmen of Azerbaijan and Ukraine success. Thank you.
Speech of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky
- Thank you, Mr. President. Greetings to you and all the forum participants. This is a very important event for both Ukraine and Azerbaijan. I know that there are more than 90 Ukrainian and more than 100 Azerbaijani companies. And it is very important that we are together today. Unfortunately, such forums have not been held for several years. Obviously, if we do not meet and if there is no dialogue, there can be no normal investment climate. If we don’t talk about real affairs, if we don’t talk about real numbers, businesses will not come to Ukraine and vice versa. A very important remark was made by Mr. President. This is mutual trust.
This is my first official visit to your beautiful country and the first time I have met with the President of Azerbaijan, Mr. Ilham Heydarovich. I feel that we have begun a dialogue. There should be concrete steps because when people promise something, they must keep their word. When obligations are met, we achieve trust. We have already agreed that a large government delegation will come to Ukraine next month and important issues of bilateral cooperation in the economic sphere will be discussed during the negotiations. This is about infrastructure, this is about privatization. More than 400 Ukrainian companies are ready for privatization. And we want to see real investment, we are glad to see everyone.
The minister of infrastructure is part of the Ukrainian delegation. We intend to implement many infrastructure projects, we are ready to build 16,000 kilometers of roads. We are interested in Azerbaijani companies building roads in Ukraine. We know that they work successfully in other countries. Everyone knows that the Azerbaijani mobile operator “Bakcell” has entered the Ukrainian market, and investments amount to about $700 million. Our task, as the Ukrainian state, is to protect these investments. Of course, all this is carried out at the level of mutual trust. We really want Azerbaijan to invest in Ukraine. We also want Ukraine to be represented in Azerbaijan. We have strong economic and historical relations.
Another area of investment is the tourism sector. For example, the head of the Kherson region is here with us. Mr. Gusev is ready to introduce the Kherson region. This is one of the most attractive places for tourism in Ukraine, which is ready for this activity but lacks infrastructure. Therefore, we are ready to consider proposals for investment projects in this area.
We have very warm partnership and friendship with SOCAR. When it comes to Ukrainian-Azerbaijani cooperation, we immediately recall SOCAR. We are interested in expanding the activities of SOCAR in Ukraine. With the help of SOCAR, we have built entire service centers on separate sections of the border and are ready to further expand this activity. I am sure that this will be one of our most interesting infrastructure projects. I have an idea. You have voiced figures several times – small public debt in Azerbaijan, growth of gross domestic product by more than 300 percent over the past 15 years. You have all this, we would like this to be the case with us as well.
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