The Azerbaijani-French Business Forum has been held at the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and President of the French Republic Francois Hollande took part in the business forum.
The heads of state made speeches at the forum.
Speech by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev
- Dear Mr. President,
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Mr. President, I sincerely welcome you and all members of your delegation to Azerbaijan.
I particularly welcome the participants of the business forum. I know that the business people of France and Azerbaijan are meeting at the business forum this morning to conduct negotiations and exchange views. Joint activities of business entities and the development of trade relations will, of course, be a great support to our overall development.
Your visit began with the opening of the French lyceum yesterday and will end with the business forum today. The negotiations, exchanges and sincere conversations conducted during this time give us further confidence that French-Azerbaijani relations will continue to flourish and our political and economic ties will become even stronger.
There is no doubt that the official visit of the President of France to Azerbaijan is a very significant event in bilateral relations. This visit will give a powerful impetus to the development of our relations. Yesterday and today we had an extensive exchange of views and consultations on various topics. We have also given specific instructions related to the development of our future relations. The documents that were and will be signed today will serve the development of various aspects of our cooperation.
Our political relations are at a very high level. And the business community, of course, is well aware of that. Business circles feel quite safe in countries with a high level of political connections. Appropriate steps will continue to be taken to develop our political relations.
In other words, our relations are multifaceted and cover many sectors. There are specific programs and signed documents for each field. This will allow us the opportunity to develop French-Azerbaijani relations in a diversified manner. This creates new opportunities for our bilateral relations and opens up new horizons for regional cooperation.
At the same time, French-Azerbaijani relations are playing a very important role in the development of EU-Azerbaijan relations because France is the leading country of Europe which, of course, holds a special place in the development of relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union.
As for the economic sector, I am very glad that Azerbaijan is the first trading partner of France in the South Caucasus. Our turnover is approaching $2 billion. As a result of the agreements reached and the contracts to be signed, this figure will further increase. Naturally, we must not be complacent with this progress. I believe that the current volume of trade is a good start. We have specific opportunities and mutual political will to increase it.
More than 50 French companies operate in Azerbaijan as investors and contractors. I believe that we will develop in this direction in the coming years. We invite French companies to invest in Azerbaijan and participate in our projects as contractors. So far, French companies have been actively involved in several very important projects for our country and showed high professionalism. They have a great reputation. The projects they have completed serve to diversify the economy of Azerbaijan.
I do hope that as a result of the business forum the relations between our business people will rise to an even higher level. There is still a slot to be done in Azerbaijan. Infrastructure projects are a priority for us. At the same time, our country has an excellent investment climate. Azerbaijan ranks first in the former Soviet Union in terms of direct foreign investment. Over the past 10 years, investment worth $150 billion was made in the country's economy. Investment in excess of $25 billion was made last year alone and 30 per cent of that was foreign investment.
It is gratifying that foreign companies are investing not only in the oil and gas sector, but also in the non-oil economy. In other words, there is a lot of confidence in the long-term successful development of Azerbaijan. This confidence is not unfounded because the steps taken in the economic sphere and in connection with the development of the country as a whole in recent years have led to specific results. The citizens of Azerbaijan, our people see the benefits of independence in their daily lives.
Azerbaijan's economy is developing very fast. I can say that over the last 10 years Azerbaijan was the fastest growing economy in the world. The gross domestic product increased more than three times. Along with this, social issues have been resolved, unemployment eliminated – it is only at 5 per cent now. External public debt is very low and accounts for 8 per cent of the gross domestic product. This allows us the opportunity to attract any resources from foreign financial markets to the country's economy. But we treat this area with great caution because we have our own financial capabilities. We use them in the first place.
Increasing competitiveness of the economy of Azerbaijan. At last count, the World Economic Forum in Davos , the economy takes 39th place in global competitiveness . Which is very high for an economy that just over 20 years working on the principles of market economy. Should also be noted that at the time of independence, the private sector share in our gross domestic product is equal to zero. At the moment it exceeds 80 percent. That is , private sector development , attracting foreign investment , as well as the direction of public investment in the country's priority spheres created these excellent facilities.
The competitiveness of the Azerbaijani economy is increasing. According to the latest calculations of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Azerbaijan is ranked in 39th place in the world for competitiveness. This is a very high indicator for a country which has been governed by the principles of a market economy for just over 20 years. I should also note that when we gained independence, the share of the private sector in our gross domestic product was equal to zero. At the moment it exceeds 80 per cent. So private sector development, the attraction of foreign investment and the channelling of state investment into the country's priority spheres have created these excellent conditions.
In the coming years, our main priority will be the development of the non-oil sector, and specific steps are taken in this direction. The experience of French companies and their contribution are very important to us. They are of great importance. I am confident that we will work together successfully in various fields in the coming years.
Among the priorities I want to mention the transport sector. I know that there are plans to sign new contracts in the transport sector. The French world-class experience in this case is known to all. Our priority is the development of the information and communication sector. We cooperate and will continue to do so in the future.
Azerbaijan is currently engaged in the development of space industry. Last year the first Azerbaijani satellite "Azerspace-1" was put into orbit, and this joy was given to us by “Arianespace”. We will work together in the space industry in the coming years too. I think that France should become Azerbaijan’s number one partner in this field.
French companies are involved in various projects in the construction sector. Agriculture, tourism, in particular, the recovery of viticulture – these are issues on the agenda, and it would be wrong to look for a better partner than France, of course.
In other words, we invite French companies to even more extensive work in Azerbaijan in two directions – both as investors and as contractors. So I am sure that our relations will rise to an even higher level in the coming years.
I want to say a few words about the energy sector. This sector is also highly important. The work under way in this area has already gone beyond our region and is more global in nature. Azerbaijan has initiated the construction of all oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea to the West and is the leader in the implementation of these projects.
Last year the contract of the 21st century was signed. It consists of three components: production, transportation and marketing. The value of relations between the European Union and Azerbaijan is in the foreground. This project is the largest infrastructure project in Europe. The volume of investment to be made in it will be approximately $45 billion . We certainly invite French companies to participate in these projects. I am sure that our cooperation in this area will serve our collective interests and create excellent business opportunities. So French-Azerbaijani friendship will continue to develop successfully.
Mr. President, I salute you cordially once again. Thank you again for accepting my invitation to visit Azerbaijan. I wish all our guests and the friendly people of France development, progress and peace.