Trend’s exclusive interview with UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy, Baroness Emma Nicholson
Question: One of the most successful spheres of cooperation between Azerbaijan and the UK is the energy sector, with oil major BP implementing huge projects in the country. How do you see the future of collaboration in this field?
Answer: I see great things in the future of Azerbaijan-UK energy co-operation, including the potential completion of the Southern Gas Corridor main pipeline, delivering Azerbaijani gas to Italy. This is an extraordinary milestone for the engineering project, which I have been involved with for some years. The partnership agreement between Azerbaijan and the UK, alongside our world-class operators SOCAR and BP, will ensure that Azerbaijan benefits from the latest oil and gas extraction technologies.
The energy market will transform over the next decade, generating new opportunities for investment in Azerbaijan. As the world pivots towards lower-carbon technologies, with the COP26 conference approaching in November, nations will make new commitments to reduce their emissions. Azerbaijan has made excellent strides forward in this area by commissioning wind and solar energy projects, and the UK is ready to invest in the sector to help maximise Azerbaijan’s solar, wind and hydro generation potential.
BP has just announced its commitment to be a “net zero” company in terms of its carbon emissions. That is a great step forward and a sign that the COP26 process is building momentum. I hope that SOCAR and all operators in Azerbaijan will make a similar commitment.
Q.: Which spheres have still untapped potential in terms of developing the bilateral cooperation between Azerbaijan and UK, alongside with the traditional sectors?
A.: There is great potential for investment and trade between our countries, and for Azerbaijan to diversity its economy and build out from its powerful oil and gas sector. I am happy to support this strategy and the reforms to the business environment which are taking place in Azerbaijan.
As the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy, it has been my pleasure to meet many Azerbaijani delegations visiting the UK helping businesses from across sectors from health and agriculture to education and space create excellent contacts with their British counterparts.
Away from the world of business, I have enjoyed leading an exceptional educational partnership between our countries. As well as the many partnerships between UK and Azerbaijani schools and universities, the British Government is investing in Learning Hubs to bring cutting edge English Language training to children from families internally displaced by conflict.
The growth of the British Council’s ‘Creative Spark’ programme, and the excitement it creates, show it is a perfect fit with Azerbaijan’s needs. I hope that partnerships within the creative industries continue to flourish. Music and performing arts exchanges are flourishing, such as the spectacular visit to Baku of the Candoco dance group, organised by the British Council. The British Council’s ‘Crafting Futures’ programme is also generating wonderful artisanal relationships, such as The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts’ engagement with Azerbaijan.
Q.: How do you assess the current level of trade relations between the two countries? Do you believe that this level is corresponding to the existing potential of Azerbaijan and the UK?
A.: The current level of trade is impressive, but I would like to see it increased in both directions to improve the prosperity of our partner nations. Azerbaijani agricultural produce, including wine, is delicious and I am sure it would be popular in the UK if it can be brought to market there. British exporters will continue to seek new ways to meet demand here. We are hoping, for example, to exhibit British products at the ADEX trade show in Baku later this year.
Q.: Which steps could help even more develop the trade relations between the two countries? Which challenges are still ahead?
A.: As the UK becomes an independent trading nation, we are more free to trade and develop partnerships with Azerbaijan. We hope very much to take advantage of this opportunity and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ statement in January, saying that it wished to see our economic relations improved, was a welcome reflection of the UK’s own wishes.
We can always do more to bring our entrepreneurs together. The UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) ran a ‘Roadshow’ at the end of January, which took experts in Azerbaijan to meet British firms and investors in London, Oxford, Manchester and Coventry. In February, DIT and the Embassy led a large Health delegation to London and Oxford and a joint team from the British Embassy in Baku and SOCAR presented at UK Subsea in Aberdeen. This is typical of our intensive efforts to increase trade and investment in both directions.
Q.: What should be the priorities of economic cooperation between the two counties in 2020? Which visits and events are planned this year in this regard?
A.: I am really looking forward to my own visit at the end of February at which I will be representing the Prime Minister at the Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council. Later in the year we plan to hold a Ministerial Foreign Policy Dialogue – we have an important bilateral agenda to discuss including trade policy, as well as regional issues, where Azerbaijan has important insights. In the autumn our annual Joint Intergovernmental Commission talks will take place in Baku – another boost for our bilateral economic co-operation.
I also hope to return to Baku in the autumn for what will be my seventh visit in this role. My work as trade envoy is deeply satisfying because I can assist our two independent nations to develop in partnership, while getting to know this beautiful country.
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