Ambassador: Switzerland-Azerbaijan relations cover wide range of areas [INTERVIEW]
Azernews' exclusive interview with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Swiss Confederation to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan Muriel Peneveyre.
In 2022, Azerbaijan and Switzerland are marking the 30th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations. In an interview with Azernews, the Ambassador upbeat about the current state and the development of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
- Ambassador, could you please tell us about the history of the Swiss-Azerbaijani relations? When did Switzerland and Azerbaijan open embassies? What is your assessment of the current state of the Azerbaijani-Swiss relations?
Diplomatic relations between Switzerland and the Republic of Azerbaijan were established on 21 January 1992 and the Swiss Embassy in Baku opened in 2008. In addition to the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations, 2022 also marks the 30th anniversary of our joint constituencies at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
This year, we have already had a high-level visit: The Speaker of Milli Majlis of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Mrs Sahiba Gafarova, made an official visit to Bern on 9-11 May 2022.
The bilateral relations between Switzerland and Azerbaijan are very good and cover a wide range of areas: political and economic, but also related to people-to-people exchanges, such as in sports and culture. Moreover, Switzerland's international cooperation has been active in Azerbaijan for more than 20 years. The new Swiss Cooperation Programme for the South Caucasus region 2022-2025 was launched in December 2021.
- A meeting of the Azerbaijani-Swiss intergovernmental commission is planned to be held in Baku this year. What issues are expected to be discussed? Are there any plans to sign new cooperation accords and, in general, does Switzerland have plans to expand cooperation with Azerbaijan (if yes, in which sectors)?
There are various formats in which bilateral relations between Switzerland and Azerbaijan are discussed:
On 3 June 2022, a new round of political consultations between both Ministries of Foreign Affairs took place in Bern, where a wide range of bilateral and international topics were discussed. On this occasion, an agreement on remunerated labour activities by accompanying persons of members of diplomatic missions was signed.
Economic questions are discussed at meetings of the Joint Economic and Trade Commission between the Ministries of Economy. The latest meeting of this Commission was held in Bern in 2019, before the pandemic, and we are currently looking for a suitable date for the next meeting in Baku. Such meetings always provide a good opportunity to get a full picture of relations and discuss their further development.
- What can you say about economic cooperation between the two countries? (Mutual investment/trade turnover/SOCAR’s operations in Switzerland/etc)
The bilateral trade volume between Switzerland and Azerbaijan is good, it amounted to CHF 261 million in 2021, which is higher than in 2020. The next meeting of the Joint Economic and Trade Commission will certainly allow discussing ways to further increase these exchanges.
In addition to trade, there are Swiss investments in Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijani investments in Switzerland, which are mutually beneficial. In Azerbaijan, large investments have been made by Swiss companies in the non-oil sector, thus contributing to the diversification of the economy.
- What are, in your view, major projects Switzerland has implemented in Azerbaijan, and are you happy about their outcome? Are there any projects underway or in the pipeline currently?
In 2019, we celebrated 20 years of engagement of Switzerland's international cooperation in Azerbaijan.
In recent years, projects financed by Switzerland have mainly focused on economic development, in particular strengthening public finance management and further improving the business environment. For example, one project provided technical assistance for the development of a medium-term public debt management strategy.
Switzerland worked with Azerbaijani banks in order to develop credit assessment tools to improve risk rating and credit quality in agriculture finance. This allows in particular SMEs and the agricultural sector to have more inclusive access to finance and invest better and more easily into their businesses to grow. Switzerland stands ready to finance further projects that facilitate access to finance for agricultural companies. Discussions are currently underway with relevant governmental organisations in Azerbaijan.
In addition, Switzerland is very committed to women’s economic empowerment. We financially support three Women Resource Centers, two of which (in Qusar and Baku-Khazar) were even established through Swiss financing. An additional one will be established in Horadiz. These Women Resource Centers provide training and seed capital to women to support them in finding formal employment or starting their own businesses. This was the case for more than 180 women in the recent past.
- Does the Swiss government or private sector have plans to get involved in the Karabakh restoration process?
In December 2021, the new Swiss Cooperation Programme for the South Caucasus Region 2022-2025 was launched. As mentioned above, in Azerbaijan, Switzerland’s international cooperation focuses on projects in the field of economic development. Such projects are financed by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and are implemented in cooperation with Azerbaijani ministries. They are not geographically limited to specific regions but benefit the entire country.
Regarding private companies, the decision of Swiss private companies to make investments or to enter into business relationships is a matter for the companies themselves, in which the Swiss government has no legal competence to interfere. In the case of tenders open to Swiss companies, the latter certainly have reliable technical solutions, high-value-added products, and in-depth expertise to offer, for example in areas such as infrastructure and transport, construction, engineering, and cleantech.
- As this year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Switzerland, have your embassy any plans to mark the date?
The 30th anniversary will be the focus of the official National Day reception which the Embassy will organize in September. As you may know, the Swiss National Day is on 1 August, but this year, another important event for the Embassy's work will take place on this date: the move of our offices to new premises. I am delighted that this year, which marks the 30th anniversary of bilateral relations, the Embassy in Baku will be able to move into modern, visitor-friendly premises with up-to-date technology.
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