- Today we will discuss the results of 2014. I can say that all the objectives set at the beginning of last year have been successfully met. 2014 also goes down in history as a successful year for our country. Exactly a year ago we had an extensive exchange of views regarding the work to be done in the past year. We set important tasks and worked hard throughout the year. The world and the region witnessed different processes last year. We can say that tensions have significantly increased. However, Azerbaijan has managed to maintain a high pace of development. We provided for the security of our country and implemented economic and social programs. The Azerbaijani people lived in safety in 2014 as well.
This demonstrates once again that ours is the right path. Azerbaijan is going along the path of independence and development. The economic and financial crisis that gripped the world a few years ago, as well as the negative events and conflicts taking place in the region, did not affect the successful development of Azerbaijan. The main reason here is the stability of the sociopolitical situation in Azerbaijan, the unity between the people and the government and the successful implementation of all our programs. Azerbaijan’s foreign and domestic policies enjoy popular support, and I am confident that as a result of the work to be carried out this year Azerbaijan will grow even stronger.
The country's economy has developed successfully. At the beginning of last year we set the goal of achieving growth of both the gross domestic product and the non-oil sector. These two main objectives have been met. Our economy has grown by about 3 per cent. This is an excellent indicator in today's world. Some countries have not experienced any growth. In fact, they are registering a decline. In the countries registering growth it constitutes about 1 per cent.
Despite the fact that oil prices plummeted at the end of last year, the economy of Azerbaijan has increased by almost 3 percent. It is very delightful that our non-oil sector has increased by 7 per cent. This is a good example of the work carried out in the last few years and a manifestation of our policy. In the future, the non-oil sector will provide for even greater economic development of Azerbaijan. The development of the non-oil sector will enable us to achieve a diversified development of the economy and ensure its sustainable development.
Inflation was very low – 1.4 per cent. This is also a great indicator. Incomes of the population have increased by 4.8 per cent, exceeding the inflation rate more than three times. I can say that there has been a picture in recent years when population incomes grow several times faster than inflation. And this has a positive effect on people’s well-being.
The country's economy has received $27 billion in investments. Of these, $16 billion is domestic investment. This is also very gratifying. In recent years domestic investments have dominated the total volume of investments. At the same time, foreign investments in the amount of $11 billion show that Azerbaijan is an attractive country for foreign investors. Given the current environment and the extremely difficult situation observed in the world and the region, the attraction of foreign investments worth $11 billion is a great success.
This success, of course, is underpinned by the policies pursued in recent years. Without this policy and without the investor confidence in the stability and the future of Azerbaijan, no-one would have invested so much in Azerbaijan. The investment of $27 billion and the inflation of 1.4 per cent are the best indicators of the successful development of Azerbaijan because we have raised pensions, wages and incomes of the population. We have invested heavily but the inflation is still at its lowest.
The exchange rate of the manat remains stable. For several years, the rate of the manat has been not only stable, it has also increased in comparison with the major world currencies. We saw this in the past year as well. This is also a very positive indicator because the stability of the manat primarily favors the well-being and leads to an increased purchasing power of the population. The rate of the Azerbaijani manat is stable. This demonstrates the success of our economic policy again.
Our foreign exchange reserves have increased. I remember giving the instruction a year ago that despite the high expenditure in store for us in 2014 – the large costs associated with the implementation of infrastructure projects, our oil strategy, the construction of the Southern Gas Corridor – we still had to do our best for our currency reserves to increase further. We have achieved that! Our currency reserves exceed $50 billion now. We are using these opportunities efficiently. On the one hand, we are increasing our foreign exchange reserves every year, but on the other we are using these opportunities for sustainable progress of our country and investing heavily in the development of the economy and the implementation of infrastructure projects.
In short, our main economic indicators for 2014 are very positive. I can say that perhaps they are the highest in the world. In the past 11 years, Azerbaijan has been the fastest growing country in the world in terms of economic development. The population and our people are seeing that. Our developing country is graphic evidence of that. At the same time, this is acknowledged by influential international economic entities. According to the Davos World Economic Forum, the economy of Azerbaijan is ranked 38th in the world for competitiveness in 2014. So we are among top 40 competitive economies in the world. This is a historic achievement.
Of course, our strong economy and sound policies allow us the opportunity to pay attention to the social sphere. This area is a constant priority, and this will continue to be the case this year too. The construction of social facilities has been ensured. More than 60 medical centers and over 50 schools have been built and commissioned. Wages and pensions have been increased. The average monthly salary in Azerbaijan is approaching 600 dollars. We will try to make sure that these rates become even more dynamic every year. A total of 400,000 people, or more than 90,000 families, are receiving targeted social assistance from the state. The state provides each family with an average of 155 manats, or about $200, a month.
Of course, we must and will do that. But I am sure that as the well-being of our people improves, the number of people in need of targeted social assistance will decrease. Currently the rate of poverty in Azerbaijan is 5 per cent. Poverty has dropped further last year, while unemployment is under 5 per cent. These are the results of our work. These figures in themselves confirm our successful development.
Last year was declared "The Year of Industry" in Azerbaijan, as we established more than 230 industrial enterprises. A total of 123,000 jobs have been created, of which nearly 100,000 are permanent. This process should also go fast because there is still a need for jobs in Azerbaijan. We still have unemployment. At the same time, the rapid economic development has had a positive impact on the demographic situation. Last year the population of Azerbaijan increased by 116,000 people. So the creation of new jobs should be a continuous process. This is the case now, and additional measures will be taken in this direction this year.
Last year we implemented several major projects. Every project is significant in itself. Among them I want to emphasize the reconstruction of Heydar Aliyev International Airport. At the same time, we commissioned the ferry terminal of the Alat International Trade Seaport. So the first part of Phase I of this project has already been implemented. The Shamkirchay water reservoir has been commissioned. This is also an ambitious project that will give an impetus to the long-term and rapid development of our country. At the same time, we commissioned large industrial enterprises, including the “Norm” cement plant where cement production constitutes 2 million tons. By putting this plant into operation we have completely eliminated our dependence on imports and increased our export opportunities.
Of course, other projects are also worthy of attention. Such major infrastructure and industrial projects can be implemented only in a strong state. We are following the processes ongoing in the world. We can see that different regions of the world are faced with a crisis – economic, financial and political. Under such circumstances countries not just hold back investments. They are cutting wages and pensions and axing jobs. Despite this, we are seeing a completely different picture in Azerbaijan. If we consider the fact that Azerbaijan has long been integrated into the world economy and is part of the global economy, such a success, of course, requires great effort and long-term and judicious policies. We have achieved this in a systematic and profound manner. These results suggest that Azerbaijan will successfully develop in the coming years too.
Oil prices in the world dropped more than in half. Of course, this will have a negative impact on our revenues. But despite this, thanks to the ongoing and future work on diversifying the economy, institutional reforms and the application of even more effective methods of management, I am sure that Azerbaijan will come out of this situation with its head high, the rate of the manat will remain stable and economic development will be ensured.
Last year we put our second satellite into orbit. This is also a great event. This is a project that has a special place among large-scale projects. We already have two satellites now. One is a telecommunications satellite and the other is a satellite observing the Earth. This is very important. Space industry in Azerbaijan is developing fast. We invest in new technologies and innovative projects. These projects serve the development of science, improve governance and at the same time prevent the still existing negative phenomena in society.
I want to emphasize the opening of “ASAN xidmət” centers. There are already seven centers now. Over the course of two years they have received 3.5 million applications. The number of services provided is growing. Their quality is high and this is very positively perceived by society. Of the institutional projects against corruption and bribery carried out in recent years, “ASAN xidmət” is in the foreground, of course. Our experience is studied in other countries. We have purchased 10 new buses, so mobile services will be provided on an even larger geographical area. In other words, this service has brought about both novelty and comfort. It has also created a very serious watershed in the fight against corruption and bribery. Now there are even more opportunities for eliminating this scourge from a practical point of view. Besides, even more people treat these issues with optimism.
We want everything in Azerbaijan to be done at the highest level. The elimination of negative trends in the social policy, economic development and governance will, of course, complete this beautiful picture. Work in this area is carried out in a consistent manner. We have a very strong political will. Our initiatives are supported by the people and our intentions already manifest themselves in life.
Our international relations expanded further last year. Every year there is a growing number of countries we cooperate with. In other words, we cooperate actively. Azerbaijan pursues a very successful foreign policy both in bilateral and multilateral formats. Of course, in the bilateral format we had very close contacts, primarily with neighboring countries. Numerous mutual visits at the level of heads of state were organized. Work has been done on the development of bilateral relations with countries of Europe and Asia. Azerbaijan enjoys great respect in the world, is recognized as a reliable partner and our international authority is gradually increasing. Azerbaijan's role in the solution of regional matters and issues of regional cooperation is indispensable. We have put forward many initiatives. These initiatives are not just intentions. They are turned into tangible projects. The implementation of these projects, of course, enhances our capabilities and brings our country political and economic dividends.
Last year we cooperated successfully with international organizations. Azerbaijan takes an active part in all international organizations we are members of, defends his position and makes a valuable contribution to the successful activities of these organizations. Last year we chaired the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. It was a period of very successful presidency. During this period Azerbaijan made a huge and valuable contribution to the development of democracy, protection of human rights and justice in Europe. In particular, our country's experience is associated with multiculturalism is unique. I believe that if our experience were analyzed more broadly in the world, it would be possible to prevent many negative facts.
In other words, with our work, the policies being implemented and the measures being taken Azerbaijan is making a valuable contribution to human values. We will continue to cooperate with international organizations. We promptly and completely fulfill our obligations to the organizations we are members of. At the same time, we have no and can’t have any obligations to the organizations we are not members of. Of course, in the bilateral format we can’t have any obligations to any state. These are governed by the laws of international relations. If someone believes that it is possible to dictate something to Azerbaijan in the language of ultimatums, they are mistaken. This is further evidenced by our history and the independent and bold policy we have carried out in recent years. All countries should build only equitable relations in the bilateral format. These are the rules of international conduct. No country has or can have exclusive rights. All countries are equal, and the organization uniting all countries is the United Nations. It is the organization which elected Azerbaijan to its highest structure in 2011. With the support of 155 countries Azerbaijan became a member of the UN Security Council. This is a great indicator reflecting the international authority of Azerbaijan. Attempts to tarnish, sully and belittle Azerbaijan, a country that enjoys great authority in the international arena today, are all in vain. They are completely futile and will never affect our policy. No outside force can speak to us in the language of ultimatums. Everyone should know this. We defend our position in all official statements and discussions held behind closed doors. We are far from double standards, and we believe that there is no room for double standards in international relations. These standards also work against those trying to apply them. We are seeing this from history and the developments unfolding in the world. Interference in internal affairs and coercion of someone into doing something – this does not benefit anyone. This violates stability, leads to bloody clashes in these countries and ultimately has a negative effect on those behind these bloody clashes. Today all countries of the world are connected to each other, and events taking place somewhere can reverberate elsewhere. I want to reiterate that our position is fair. It is based on international law. We have successfully defended and will defend this position.
As for the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, unfortunately there was no progress in this direction last year. Last year too, Armenia simply chose the strategy of imitating the negotiations. I believe that it is no longer a secret to us and the mediators that Armenia does not want peace. Armenia does not want this conflict to be settled and does not want to vacate the occupied lands despite the fact that the presidents of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries have repeatedly stated that the status quo is unacceptable. But these are just words. These are just words that are not underpinned by a serious policy. If the status quo is unacceptable, and it certainly is, then measures must be taken. It is necessary to put pressure on the aggressor state. It must be forced to withdraw from the occupied lands. Otherwise, it will be some sort of hypocrisy. A statement is made but it is not followed by any work. Similarly, the UN Security Council has adopted four resolutions. For over 20 years none of them has been implemented. Why are some resolutions immediately implemented in other regions and are not implemented in our case? This is an injustice. These are double standards. The Azerbaijani people are already well aware that the unresolved status of this problem should not be attributed only to the unconstructive position of Armenia. Apparently there are forces in the world that are not interested in resolving this conflict. Apparently there are forces that are interested in keeping this conflict in a "frozen" or "semi-frozen" state and using it as a means of pressure on Azerbaijan. The picture we are seeing in different regions – Europe and the Middle East – in recent years further reinforces this position and this approach. This is the conclusion that follows from these processes. Therefore, it should be clarified how much longer we will have to encounter these double standards.
In addition, in the summer of last year and at the end of the year Armenia repeatedly resorted to an overt provocation. And on both occasions the Azerbaijani army gave the enemy a fitting rebuff and pointed it to its place. In the summer months more than 50 invaders were killed. In November, the Armenian provocation did not remain unanswered either. Responsibility for the events that occurred as a result of all these provocations rests squarely with the leadership of Armenia – the criminal and dictatorial regime. The current and previous leadership of this country is also directly responsible for today's deplorable situation in Armenia. It is because of their aggressive policy that Armenia has failed to assert itself as an independent country. In essence, it has not even achieved independence. This is simply a formality.
Azerbaijan sticks to a principled stand in this issue too. Our position is based on international law. Our position is reinforced by our army. Last year our army showed its power and what it is capable of. It showed the enemy and its patrons that the Azerbaijani army may restore its territorial integrity at any time. It would simply be better if this issue is resolved through negotiations. I believe that the presence of these several factors further strengthens our position.
Although no progress has been made in the negotiations, I believe that a lot was done to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict last year – both in political terms, within the regional frames, and in the military sphere – on the battlefield. We have taught the Armenians a lesson they still can’t recover from, are in disarray and hysteria. They are now trying to blame us at various international events. But the question arises: what are Armenian soldiers doing in Agdam and Fizuli? What is the Armenian army there for? Why doesn’t anyone apart from us openly tell them about this? Why are the mediators involved in the matter indifferent to this? These are rhetorical questions. We know why. Nevertheless, we have to ask these questions at every event and every forum. These questions should be asked by government officials, public figures, MPs, ordinary citizens and members of civil society. Let them answer the questions about the policy of double standards and pro-Armenian policies. It is becoming increasingly difficult to tolerate such hypocrisy. I believe it is no longer necessary to speak in the language of diplomacy. I want to repeat: the truth is that the continued occupation of our lands is not just the work of Armenia. Armenia is a powerless and poor country. It is in a helpless state. Of course, if it didn’t have major patrons in various capitals, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would have been resolved fairly long ago. Today this is acknowledged even by the Armenian leadership. Without the external support they would not be able to keep our lands under occupation even for a day. We are fighting alone. Our recent history has shown that even alone we can succeed in the political struggle and protect our national interests.
In 2015 we will further strengthen our army potential. Fairly large funds have been allocated for this purpose. Suffice it to say that the funds allocated for the military exceed the total budget of Armenia more than twice. Our army discipline and combat capability our growing. The patriotic spirits are at a high level. We are becoming stronger and Armenia is weakening. This is an inevitable process. So in the coming years this process will go even faster.
I want to reiterate that the results of 2014 and 2015 will show our strength again. Neither the fall in oil prices nor the crises and bloody clashes taking place nearby can affect our rapid development. I am absolutely sure that we will successfully complete 2015 and ensure the development of our country.
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Minister of Economy and Industry Shahin Mustafayev, deputy Prime Minister, chairman of the State Committee for Refugees and IDP Affairs Ali Hasanov, chairman of the Central Bank Elman Rustamov highlighted socio-economic results of 2014 and objectives for the future.
President Ilham Aliyev made closing remarks. The head of state said processes that took place in 2014 show that this year will be very difficult for global economy. The President said that with the decline in oil price 2015 will be a test for countries rich in natural resources. “And a well thought-out economic policy, diversification process, unity between the people and authorities guarantees that this year too will be a success for our people. President Ilham Aliyev emphasized the importance of focusing on the development of the non-oil sector in 2015.
The head of state said allocation of preferential loans to entrepreneurs must be continued in 2015, management principles must be improved in all government bodies, the cases of squandering must be prevented. The President said that the implementation of economically and socially important projects, which are necessary for the country, will be continued.
President Ilham Aliyev hailed the groundbreaking of the Southern Gas Corridor last year as a historic event. “The execution of the Southern Gas Corridor, which is the project of the 21st century, will be an important stage in the development of our country.”
The head of state praised preparation for the first European Games to take place in Baku in several months, and said that the Organizing Committee is working actively. “The European Games standard will be set in Baku,” said the President, and hailed the games as “not only a sporting event, but also an important opportunity for sportsmen and guests to familiarize themselves with our country and development processes here”.