Johann Schneider-Ammann: Azerbaijan, Switzerland have some untapped bilateral business opportunities - INTERVIEW
Federal Councilor, Head of the Swiss ederal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) Johann Schneider-Ammann’s interview with APA-Economics:
- How do you assess the current state of relations between Azerbaijan and Switzerland? What is the purpose of your visit to Azerbaijan?
- Last year Switzerland and Azerbaijan celebrated 25 years of diplomatic relations. During this time, our two countries have developed close ties and a trustful partnership. We have good and dynamic relations in our political dialogue and economic relations, including a trustful technical cooperation. His Excellency, President Ilham Aliyev regularly opens his international working year with his participation at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. President Aliyev’s meeting with the rotating Swiss president in the context of the WEF has already become a kind of tradition.
Those friendly bilateral meetings are a good platform for exchanging views and ideas on how to further develop the relations of our countries. I remember very well my meeting with President Aliyev in Davos two years ago. We had a friendly meeting in a positive atmosphere, where we openly discussed potential areas of cooperation. As an illustration, I would like to mention the opening of a new factory in Sumgayit Chemical Industrial Park by the Swiss company SIKA.
Of course, there is always room for further achievements and personally believe that there are some untapped bilateral business opportunities. Therefore, my visit to Azerbaijan on 8-9 July is also an important next step towards the deepening of our economic ties. The largest part of my delegation travelling to Baku is high level business people of leading Swiss enterprises. One of the objectives of my visit will be to identify new business opportunities for the Swiss private sector in Azerbaijan, also in connection with the “One Belt and One Road Initiative“. I am convinced that both sides can only profit from such a first-hand exchange between decision-makers from the political and the economic spheres.
- Are you pleased with the current volume of trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Switzerland today? What steps would Switzerland take to expand economic ties?
- Trade turnover equaled to 200 Million USD in 2017which is lower than in previous years. So, there is certainly a good potential to expand trade exchange and I have no doubt that the existing level of bilateral relations will contribute to increase the trade turnover further.
We understand that Azerbaijan is engaged in reforms to diversify the economy and expand the non-oil sector. The subsequent increase of export, particularly in the field of agriculture products, is already visible. If these reforms are continued, the trade balance of Azerbaijan will continue to improve. As explained, my visit will also offer new chances to the private sector to identify business opportunities. If Swiss companies can be sure of a conducive business and investment climate, including rule of law and predictability of procedures and costs, I am confident that we will see new investments.
This is also a reason for Switzerland to launch a new development cooperation project in the area of investment climate worth, together with the World Bank Group and with of total volume of USD 4 million.
- At present, some of Swiss companies illegally operate in occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. What steps has Swiss government taken in this regard so far?
- Swiss authorities have no legal basis to prevent Swiss companies from undertaking economic activities in the Nagorno Karabakh region. Nevertheless, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs draws the attention of Swiss companies that may be active in this region to the relevant legislation of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Furthermore, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs advises against travelling to the Nagorno Karabakh region and the territories around.
I also wish to say that Switzerland has neither recognized the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh nor has it ever questioned the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
- As you know, SOCAR, Azerbaijan Oil Company, operates in Switzerland. Do you have any plans on further cooperation with the company?
- SOCAR’s presence in Switzerland is very strong and highly visible. SOCAR is the best proof that our investments are not one-sided. There are 172 SOCAR filling stations present in Switzerland with a trend to further expand.
In only a few years’ time, SOCAR established itself as a well-known brand in my country and its success is a positive promotion of Azerbaijan in Switzerland. We welcome SOCAR’s presence in Switzerland which includes also its energy trading activities with separate offices in Geneva.
- There are quite number of Swiss companies operating in Azerbaijan. What do you think what other fields could Swiss companies engage in and invest to in Azerbaijan?
- Indeed, there is a considerable number of famous world leading Swiss companies in Azerbaijan and some of them continue to intensify their successful business operations. Thanks to the cement producing company Lafarge-Holcim, Switzerland is among the top-investors in the non-oil sector of Azerbaijan since a couple of years.
Another example is Stadler Rail company which contributes to the development and modernization of the railway system of Azerbaijan and whose trains are successfully operating between Sumgayit and Baku.
Swiss companies are well recognized in Azerbaijan as providers of high quality, innovative and very reliable technologies and commercial solutions. I also see some additional potential in the area of education where Switzerland has an impressive range of world class universities and hospitality schools. I further think of business potential in relation to our outstanding health services and our long experience as one of the top tourism destinations in the world.
I can observe with astonishment how Azerbaijan is accelerating its efforts to develop its transport corridors to facilitate trade between east and west and north and south. Thus, your country has also good opportunities to play an active role within the new “One Belt and One Road Initiative“ which is of great interest for our companies.
As far as your question about the investment possibilities concerned, I would emphasize that we have a highly liberal attitude regarding economy and business in my country. The Swiss government creates a framework but doesn't interfere or influence business decisions of the private sector. As a former entrepreneur and member of the Swiss government, I can say that from my own experience in both fields. And of course, when the business sector identifies viable investment opportunities, the Swiss government will always provide its assistance to support them.
- Is there any offer from Azerbaijani side in regard to opening Azerbaijan Trade House in Switzerland?
- Not to my knowledge. However, I appreciate the government’s new initiative to further promote Azerbaijani exports. In case that Switzerland can be helpful to support economic reforms in Azerbaijan beyond the efforts we are already undertaking, we would certainly have a closer look at it as long as Azerbaijan’s requests fall under our current cooperation strategy.
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