The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) has collaborated with CATBIG – a business-to-business network for UK-based companies, focusing on the countries of Central Asia and the Trans-Caucasus – to organise a briefing for more than 60 diplomats and international delegates from the UK energy, financial services, information technology, infrastructure and agricultural sectors. The UK remains the greatest contributor of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to Azerbaijan, equating to 32.2 per cent of all FDI ($1.3bn) during the first half of 2014, according to the Azerbaijani State Statistics Committee, SIA reports quoting the AzerTac.
The relevance of Azerbaijan to the UK and across Europe has increased considerably since the signing of a $45bn agreement in 2013 between the Azerbaijani government and the BP-led Shah Deniz Consortium. From 2018, this will see Caspian gas from the Shah Deniz II development being transported to an interconnector in Italy.
Charles Hendry MP, Prime Ministerial Trade Envoy to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, commented: “An excellent state of relations exists between the countries, and it is imperative for British businesses to see where the opportunities lie and understand how UK and Azerbaijani governments and partner organisations can collaborate to help UK businesses optimise their revenues.
“The relationship is currently overwhelmingly centred around oil and gas, and BP was significantly the first international investor in the country, following the regaining of independence. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has spoken of BP as being the partner of choice for another 20–30 years. The final investment decision (FID) between the Azerbaijani government and the BP-led Shah Deniz Consortium, signed in December 2013 in the presence of the Rt. Hon. William Hague MP, former UK Foreign Secretary, can be seen as the next stage of this relationship. This marks the first step in the Southern Gas Corridor, which will bring Azerbaijani Caspian Gas to Southern Europe and ensure European energy security and energy supply diversification.
“Around 500 UK companies and 5000 UK citizens are working in Azerbaijan, most of which are related to BP and its partners. We now need to take this relationship beyond energy, and help build the skills base amongst local people in Azerbaijan. The Sumgait Chemical Industrial Park is currently under construction, and British investment and the skills that British companies can bring are a necessity. The White City Project has transformed an area of heavily contaminated land into a world-class location for top-quality hotels. British companies can certainly contribute in terms of design, architecture and project management. There is also collaboration in the information technology sector, and more students are being sent to the UK on Presidential scholarships than any other country. There are also great opportunities in the financial services sector, which remains underdeveloped.
“Baku is preparing to host the inaugural European Games and many companies and specialists who were involved in the London 2012 Olympics are working in Baku. Azerbaijan will be on the World Stage for the first time, and Formula 1 will be hosted in 2016. I am certain that Baku will rise to the occasion due to the drive and determination of the Azerbaijani government. Azerbaijani Ministers are pro-British, keen to see engagement and want British business in their country.”
Tahir Taghizadeh, recently-appointed Azerbaijani Ambassador to the UK, stated: “Our Ministers are pro-British and are also pro-Azerbaijani, and our economic, political and security interests almost coincide. We want our relationship with the UK to outlast our hydrocarbon resources. Since 2003, due to political stability and sound macroeconomic policies, the country transformed and the economy grew 3.2 times by 2013. Last year, AzerSpace–1, the first Azerbaijani satellite was launched, and will soon be followed by the second satellite. There are also many projects aimed at developing the tourist industry.
“Azerbaijan accounts for 70 per cent of the South Caucasus GDP, and trades with around 150 countries. Azerbaijan was ranked in 38th position in the Global Competitiveness Report 2014–15, published by the World Economic Forum. Azerbaijan applies the same principles as the UK in terms of economic development and political ideals. Economic issues will remain at the top of my Ambassadorial agenda. I am committed to bringing easy access to the Azerbaijani economy for UK businesses, whether in the energy or non-energy sector.”
Lionel Zetter, Director, TEAS, said: “As you will be aware, Azerbaijan is a very prosperous and stable country, but it has a long-running conflict with neighbouring Armenia and has to look after around 875,000 refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). This is a considerable financial burden, even for a wealthy country such as Azerbaijan. It is our job to remind people that the conflict is ongoing and that these people are unable to return to their rightful homes.”
The meeting was followed by a question-and-answer session which covered such topical issues as flights and visas; the status of the Caspian Sea; the Trans-Eurasian Information Superhighway (TASIM) project; and educational development in the country.