Trend’s exclusive interview with Polish Ambassador to Azerbaijan Rafał Poborski
Question: What are the priority areas of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Poland in the sphere of economy?
Answer: Generally speaking main directions of the economic cooperation between Poland and Azerbaijan remain unchanged. They were expressed in the document Road Map towards the Strategic Partnership in the Economy signed in Warsaw in 2017 by our Presidents. Economic cooperation was also a topic discussed during the President of Poland Andrzej Duda’s visit in Azerbaijan at the end of May 2019.
We see also an expediency of organising the next meeting of the Intergovernmental Economic Commission, however current pandemic situation forces us to review these plans. Nevertheless when the international situation becomes more predictable we need to work much more harder to increase our economic cooperation.
I would like to underline that we have many instruments which should allow to achieve this goal for instance: Trade Offices in both countries, solid legal base, understanding for business conditions, human capital and the multimodal transport corridor between Poland, Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan. This framework of cooperation already proved to be effective as even in nowadays difficult circumstances our business people were able to increase the volume of bilateral trade. In first six months this year for example Polish export to Azerbaijan rose by 56,7% in comparison to the same period last year.
But of course this is not enough. We need to work further and establish for example direct flights between our countries for example. This will not only enhance P2P contacts but also facilitate trade, business contacts and tourism that should play an important role in Polish-Azerbaijani relations.
Our cooperation would be much easier when some other important processes will come to positive end. Signing the new bilateral agreement between Azerbaijan and the EU as well as joining Azerbaijan to the WTO would be another impact which allow our economy to work closer each other.
We are ready for cooperation with Azerbaijan in many spheres and we believe it can be important offer in diversifying the Azerbaijani economy. Therefore, collaboration with Poland could be facilitator of transformation of Azerbaijan economy and state institution. In this respect one should remember how successful we were in transforming our country from post-communist one into EU and NATO member state with continuous economic growth and one of the lowest unemployment rate in Europe. I dare to say that the are many lessons that could be drawn out of Polish experience and we are ready to share them with our partners.
In more concreate fields we see the potential to further develop the cooperation in the agricultural sector, including in trade of food products, food processing, raw materials machinery, transportation, etc. Polish manufacturers offer modern, quality equipment at competitive prices and have been delivering agricultural machinery to your country.
Exchanging the experiences under the twinning projects is an option too. Our ministers for agriculture met in Baku last year. Poland is a partner in three EU member states consortium in the project dedicated to strengthening the institutional capacity for implementing effective state support measures in agricultural sector and rural development of Azerbaijan. Under this twinning project we are sharing our knowledge on the evolution of the state support schemes within the EU, best practices and provide advice for Azerbaijani colleagues – bearing in mind all the differences and various conditions.
There is still a potential in cooperation regarding public procurement. I believe we would all like to see more companies from Azerbaijan and Poland participating in transparent public tenders on both markets. In the current circumstances Poland see the importance of cooperation in medical and pharmaceutical sector as well. Your institutions, business associations and entities were already informed on the Anti-COVID Offer by Polish Business platform, that contains examples of products and solutions offered by Polish entrepreneurs and researchers which can help better respond to the Coronavirus crisis and its impact. Poland is also delivering equipment to be used in the battle against COVID to our Eastern Partnership partners, including Azerbaijan. The Polish and Azerbaijani companies develop effective contacts in transport and logistics sector, machine and chemical industries, but also in IT, shipbuilding, tourism and electronics.
As you know Poland has also a very open market also for Azerbaijani workers. Now we are going to open our borders for doctors, nurses and other medical staff inviting them to work in Poland. It could be a great opportunity for them to upgrade their skills and the transfer their knowledge obtained in Poland back to Azerbaijan.
Q.: Which spheres of cooperation have been mostly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
A.: According to our statistics in the first half of 2020 our turnover has reached the level of 62,33 mln USD. Despite pandemic situation and limited activity, this result is much more better comparing to the same period of 2018 or 2019. Our export to Azerbaijan in 1 and 2Qs of 2020 has increased almost by 60 % y-o-y. Now Azerbaijani customers can already buy many Polish products in local shops.
Therefore, I think that the most affected dimensions of our cooperation are political and people-to-people. It affects G2G contacts because due to the pandemic it is really difficult not to organise but even to plan some routing meetings like MFA consultations that we tend to hold regularly in previous years. We are forced to limit some other formats, some of them are going into online regime. Nevertheless, it is clear that online meeting cannot replace direct contact in the international relations.
Because of the global pandemics we see also lower number of people exchange. It refers to Azerbaijani students going to our country, tourists, some businessmen. We observe drastic fall in number of Poles visiting Azerbaijan this year as well. As you know borders of Azerbaijan has been closed since March so it is a real factor which negatively influence on cooperation between our countries. On the other hand, we understand that Azerbaijani government actively fight against coronavirus and we are glad to see that it has some unique achievements in this field, and that we could help in this endeavours by suppling some medical assistance and organizing on-line exchange of experiences between our medical experts.
Q.: To which spheres would Poland line to attract investments from Azerbaijan?
A.: Our mutual investment level is quite low so here there is a lot of work to do and we discussed this issue with Minister M. Jabbarov recently. Poland is always open for foreign investors and we are creating a favourable environment for them. We know that Azerbaijan has a potential to invest in our country. Opening a Trade Office in Warsaw is a clear signal for it. On the other hand we also opened our Trade Office in Baku so we expect some synergy effects from these moves in the near future.
Our economy relies mostly on services and there I see an potential for Azerbaijani capital. Our Stock Market, the biggest one in the Central Europe could be also an attractive place for investing. Therefore, I am pretty sure that correctly invested assets will bring a good income to our Azerbaijani partners.
Q.: How do you assess the current level of energy cooperation between the two countries?
A.: First of all, I would like to congratulate Azerbaijan a great progress in the energy sector. We are very happy that Azerbaijan is finishing the Southern Gas Corridor with operationalizing the TAP pipeline. It is very important project for your country and a clear example of the great cooperation between Azerbaijan, the EU and other Western community. Decision made by your Great Leader Heydar Aliyev to develop energy sector relying on Western knowledge, capital and experience was a historical and brave decision which allowed Baku to achieve contemporary successes not only in energy but many other fields. Poland hopes that Azerbaijan will carry on this way of thinking. Therefore, I would like to underline that Warsaw always politically supported SGC.
We do see the potential for cooperation in the field of energy between the two countries. With successful political and economic transformation Poland creates knowledge and financial capital to offer beneficial collaboration in energy sector. Such flagships of our petro-energy sector as Orlen or Polish Oil Mining and Gas Extraction already realize projects on many markets. State administration supports their foreign projects but it is off course up to the companies to develop cooperation on the basis of the economic merits.
We will support further development of the Southern Gas Corridor as long as it provides a real diversification of energy sources to the EU. We also positively asses Azerbaijani crude oil supplies to our Eastern and Southern neighbours. The more the players on the market the more secure it is!
Under this assumption we are actively diversifying energy supplies to our country. The LNG terminal in Świnoujście and the Baltic Pipe gas pipeline from Norway are key infrastructure projects that strengthen our economy and the energy security.
At the same time Poland has a strong potential for cooperation in the sphere of renewables and green technologies as well. Poland is successfully diversifying the supply of fossil fuels and share of renewable energy resources in our energy-mix is steadily growing. Many of our companies have developed various interesting technologies which may be of interest to many companies and institutions in Azerbaijan. Wind energy, biofuels or solar energy are the promising spheres for cooperation. Therefore, we applaud Azerbaijan authorities decision to put more attention on renewable energy. This is very important because it is a clean energy and your country has an excellent condition to produce energy from sun and wind.
Q.: How would the two countries benefit from each other’s transit potential?
A.: As for road, rail and sea transportation – Poland always supported the idea of developing the multimodal transport corridors connecting Europe and Asia, including those passing through South Caucasus. In EU we actively cooperated in transforming this route to an important element of the general EU's connectivity policy. We believe it should strengthen the multidimensional cooperation between the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries, including Azerbaijan.
In my opinion transport and logistics are examples of these branches in which our countries have already cooperated successfully. Poland recognized importance of Azerbaijan’s transport potential already few years ago. Together we were able to established transport corridor called Trans-Caspian International Transport Route. The endpoint of this corridor is in Sławków, in Southern Poland Silesia region. There is a transhipment terminal located at the junction of the westernmost section of railway lines with a wide track gauge (1520 mm) and normal track line (1435 mm), thanks to which it fits perfectly into the development of container transport on the Far East and Asia – Western Europe route.
On the other hand we warmly welcome a dynamic development of the International Sea Port in Alat as well as a whole infrastructure and advantages offered there. The importance of multi-modal transportation, especially using of container transhipment has been constantly increasing. Ensuring smooth functioning of the supply chain is of utmost importance, not only in emergency situations. That is why the diversification of transportation routes is essential and beneficial for all subjects of the globalized economy. The institutional contacts between Polish and Azerbaijani sea ports has been established. We look forward to Azerbaijan’s plans to create free trade zone in Baku-Alat port as well. The potential in this area is still big, having in mind the ports being developed on the other bank of the Caspian Sea and vicinity of the Central Asia and Far East markets.
Therefore, we have to work together in order to effectively connect our ports, multimodal terminals and railways. Development of ports demands investments and stable, clear conditions and smooth interstate cooperation. Poland has undergone significant changes in this field and is ready to share our experience on developing of port infrastructure as well as legislation in this area. We are also one of the EU leaders in logistics, storage and goods delivery so there is potential of cooperation in this fields as well.
Q.: Which spheres have untapped potential for joint production?
A.: We always emphases that agriculture and food processing could be these fields where our cooperation has potential to growth. Poland poses unique know-how in both fields and we are ready to consider best possible ways to share this experience with our Azerbaijani partners. Polish and Azeri offer in agro-food dimension is complementary and while enhancing mutual trade we can also analyse cooperation on third markets. Azerbaijan due to the unique geographical location could provide Polish exporters an access to the new markets. Poland could also play a role of Azerbijani “window to EU market”. It should be even easier taking into account multimodal transport corridors that we established between our countries. One should not forget that to open for Azerbaijani products EU market they firstly must meet EU standards which specification is well known. Here we always underline that Poland is ready to offer an Azerbaijan a technical support in order to prepare your companies to be more active on European market. We are already taking part with IT and LIT in a EU-AZ twinning program “Strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Agriculture to improve effectiveness and efficiency of state support to agriculture” as well as proposed recently with IT another one to Food Safety Agency called “Strengthening Azerbaijan's food safety system (with a focus on the fruit &vegetable sector)”. In the second case other offer was chosen by our Azerbaijani partners but we are never the less open for cooperation in the field.
We can also indicate mutually beneficial new prospective directions of cooperation. For example, it is a bit surprising that in Azerbaijan, a sea country with an interesting coastline, sailing is relatively poorly developed. Sailing can be understood here as a thriving and profitable tourism sector, as well as an educational segment for youth. There has been a real sailing boom in Poland in the last 20 years. On the one hand, several hundred sailing schools were established to train and give students sailing licenses to run yachts, and on the other, a significant & profitable tourism sector was established, attracting foreign tourists. Azerbaijan has a great potential to develop sailing and nautical tourism. Poland, having extensive experience in this field (a wide training, instructor, didactic base, etc.), as well as being a world leader in the production of boats and yachts, could become Azerbaijan's partner in developing this tourism sector. Moreover, In result Azerbaijan could become a leader in sailing tourism and sports in the entire Caspian Sea basin.
Another area with high potential for increasing cooperation is, for example, financing innovations. Poland with its current innovations &, startups support programs is now the best place for the young high-tech companies interested in developing their business and ideas in UE. Polish investors, venture capital and private equity funds are actively looking for attractive investment targets and innovative projects around the world. Azerbaijani startups and innovative entrepreneurs could take advantage of this offer and opportunities. As a result of such cooperation, new innovative technological solutions and products of Polish-Azerbaijani origin could appear on the European and world markets.
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