Diplomatic Pouch: Interview with newly-appointed Portuguese Ambassador to Baku Paula Leal de Silva

29 March 2017 12:48 (UTC+04:00)

By Gulgiz Muradova

There is considerable room for growth and diversification of trade flows between Portugal and Azerbaijan

The newly-appointed Portuguese Ambassador, Paula Leal de Silva, tells AzerNews about Portuguese-Azerbaijan cooperation, touching upon ways to develop bilateral ties, economy and other aspects.

Question: How could you describe the perspectives for developing Portugal’s economic and political relations with Azerbaijan?

Answer: I would like to start by mentioning how honored I am to be able to serve my country in beautiful Azerbaijan. Last Sunday, I have presented my credentials, as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Portugal in Azerbaijan, to His Excellency the President of the Republic, Mr Ilham Aliyev, and, on behalf of Portugal, I am fully committed to enhance and widening the bilateral agenda between our two countries. A goal that is shared with His Excellency the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Before replying to your question, please allow me to seize this opportunity to congratulate Azerbaijan on the 25th anniversary of the restoration of its independence, last October 18, and on the socioeconomic developments achieved over this quarter century. 

The political and diplomatic relations between the two countries are quite positive, although there is potential for further developments in areas of mutual interest. Bilateral trade between Portugal and Azerbaijan is still not highly significant, but both sides are committed to invert this situation.

The last visit of a Portuguese Foreign Minister to Azerbaijan took place in 2012. But more recently, in November 2016, at the invitation of the Portuguese Foreign Minister, Santos Silva, Minister Mammadyarov was in Lisbon, where both Ministers agreed on the importance of strengthening the bilateral political and economic ties, instilling greater dynamism to the promotion of exports and investments between the two countries.

In 2016, bilateral trade flows amounted to roughly €457 million. Portugal exported only €1.8 million whilst imported €455 million from Azerbaijan. This year, Azerbaijan was the 149th customer and the 20th supplier of goods and services to Portugal. Portuguese exports were concentrated in machinery, medicines, furniture, textiles and agriculture products. Imports were made up almost entirely of energy products, notably crude oil. All in all, we may say that there is considerable room for growth and diversification of trade flows between Portugal and Azerbaijan, and we will work jointly towards that goal.

Q.: What are Lisbon's goals in fostering a stronger relationship with Azerbaijan, and how do you intend to ensure that it is mutually beneficial?

A.: Fostering a strong relationship with Azerbaijan is of great relevance to my country. Currently there are already bilateral cooperation agreements in force, concerning a wide range of issues, from political-diplomatic matters to business promotion. But there is still further work to be done with a view to broadening the cooperation to other areas of common interest. For example, culture is one dimension that deserves to be explored. Tourism, real estate, and ICT are other sectors of interest to both countries.

Q.: Does Portugal come up with any measures to promote trade between the countries? Which sector do you consider as the most successful to build the stronger ties with Azerbaijan?

A.: We hope that the bilateral Agreement on Economic Cooperation, signed in Lisbon, November 2016, by the Portuguese and the Azerbaijani Ministers of Foreign Affairs, will be instrumental for the enhancement of existing economic relations as well as the development of advantageous economic co-operation between both countries. A joint committee is to be established under the said Agreement, in order to create the practical conditions for enhancing bilateral trade and mutual investments.

There is a growing interest of Portuguese companies in Azerbaijan. The number of exporting companies increased from 39, in 2011, to 83, in 2015. The sectors of greatest dynamism and potential are: engineering and construction of infrastructures, communications and information technology, energy, health industry, renewable energies, tourism, footwear and textiles, ceramics, wine, and canned fish.

Of all of them allow me to highlight some – the wine industry, where Portugal already attained world reputation, has been enormously expanded in the last 10 to 15 years; information and communications technologies, health industry and construction are also areas offering enormous potential. We have, already, some Portuguese companies in these fields operating in Azerbaijan.

Q.: Azerbaijan increasingly attracts foreign investments. What is your plan on bringing Portugal businesses and capital to Azerbaijan? What joint projects could Portugal offer to Azerbaijani companies?

A.: In 2012 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Foundation (AZPROMO) and its Portuguese counterpart, AICEP- Portugal Global, with the aim of expanding and deepening long-term mutually beneficial cooperation. This Memorandum constituted an important step forward for the fostering of business and investment relations between the two countries and one of its main outcomes has been the visit of Portuguese business delegations to Azerbaijan.

Nevertheless, we believe there is still room for improvement in business relations, as both countries have a large untapped potential and a strong political will for strengthening reciprocal economic ties. To achieve that goal, a stronger collective effort is needed to bring our businessmen together, encouraging them to explore new business and cooperation opportunities. Culture is also a very relevant means to get to know each other better.

Q.: Do you regard the current state of tourism business between the two countries as successful? What are the current plans on culture sphere to bring the two nations closer?

A.: Azerbaijan has been developing its tourism sector with great success. Portugal has been a tourist destination for a long time and, recently, the tourism industry has expanded exponentially. Having a population of slightly above 10 million inhabitants, Portugal hosted in 2016, 19 million tourist visitors. Tourism represents currently 10% of the Portuguese GDP.

There is no charter or regular flight from Baku to Lisbon yet, but Azerbaijani tourists are slowly discovering Portugal. People who have visited my country used to say that Portugal is one of Europe’s best kept secrets, but I believe that such a secret is now becoming real. In 2015, we had 1,283 visitors from Azerbaijan up from 314 in 2010, which represents a serious growth.

We are currently negotiating a Cooperation Protocol in the field of Tourism, between the Ministry of Economy of Portugal and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan. We are looking forward to concluding and signing this Protocol soon.

We also believe that the younger generations, more used to travel, should deserve particular attention in our efforts to increase people to people contacts. We expect that the planned visit to Portugal of the Azerbaijani Minister of Youth and Sport this year will help to foster cooperation in sports and in matters relating to youth.

Q.: How could the ongoing EU-Azerbaijan strategic partnership agreement contribute to Portugal's relations with Azerbaijan?

A.: We attach great importance to a constructive EU-Azerbaijan relationship, and we approved the adoption by the European Council of a mandate for the European Commission to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with Azerbaijan. This new agreement will replace the existing Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and we hope will enhance the EU-Azerbaijan partnership so as to develop fully-fledged economic, trade and investment relations.

Q.: What position does Portugal hold with regards to the resolution of the long-lasting Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

A.: Portugal supports the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Azerbaijan and acknowledges the challenging geopolitical situation of Azerbaijan resulting from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

We sustain the mediation efforts carried out by the Minsk Group of the OSCE and theirs co-chairs in finding a path for peace. My country sincerely hopes that future negotiations will proceed towards a comprehensive, peaceful and lasting settlement of the conflict.

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