President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has chaired a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers dedicated to the results of the first quarter of 2017 and future tasks.
The head of state made an opening speech at the event.
Opening speech of President Ilham Aliyev
- Today we will discuss the results of the first quarter and talk about the work forthcoming in the next months.
In the first quarter, our country has developed successfully and all our forecasts are coming true. Back at the end of last year, I noted with full confidence that the rapid development of our country would be ensured in 2017. The results of the first quarter show that Azerbaijan has been developing rapidly in all areas, our international positions have strengthened, domestic processes are proceeding in a positive direction, economic development is being provided, and all social issues are being resolved. Very serious social initiatives have been put forward, army construction is successfully under way. I am confident that we will achieve the desired results and all the goals this year, and 2017 will be successful for our country.
Unfortunately, the current international situation in the world and the region remains tense. Conflicts and bloody confrontations continue. New risks and threats are emerging. In general, unfortunately, serious steps aimed at stability in the region were not taken in 2017. On the contrary, I want to note once again that the risks are increasing. Of course, as a country located in this region, we are concerned about this and take measures to ensure that the Azerbaijani state and the Azerbaijani people develop and live normally, that there is security in our country and we can protect ourselves from potential risks.
Since the beginning of the year, our international activity has been very successful. In the first quarter, I made seven foreign visits. They are all very important. First of all, my participation in international conferences is of great importance for securing the interests of our country. As you know, there are two prestigious international events in the world. The first is the Davos World Economic Forum, which focuses on political and economic issues and is joined by the political and economic elite of the world. The second is the Munich Conference on Security, which is more focused on security and political issues. By participating in both of these prestigious events, I once again informed the world public about the position of our country, including one related to the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Armenia's aggressive policy. At the same time, my numerous meetings at the Davos Economic Forum with heads of state and leading international companies, of course, also serve our interests.
For more than 10 years, I have been participating in the Davos World Economic Forum. As a result of these meetings, many projects important for our country are being implemented. Of course, our participation and active role in these events contribute to the growth of respect for our country, and today Azerbaijan is known in the international arena as a very reliable partner.
My successful visit to the European Commission took place in the first quarter. We attach great importance to this, as European countries are our main trading partners and main investors, and we have been fruitfully cooperating with the European Union for many years. All meetings with the leaders of European organizations were held in a very sincere atmosphere, in the conditions of mutual understanding this time too. All negotiations and talks were held on the basis of mutual respect. Both the leaders of the European Commission and I noted this in official speeches. Also, immediately after the visit, we began negotiations on a new agreement with the European Commission. I am confident that these negotiations will soon lead to good results.
I have also paid official visits. I had a very successful visit to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Pakistan is a very close, friendly and brotherly country for us. As you know, because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict Pakistan has not established any ties with Armenia and has no diplomatic relations with it. We highly appreciate this position. The agenda of our bilateral relations is expanding. The topics of discussion include economic, political, as well as military-technical cooperation. There are good results. Over the past five years, we have successfully chaired the Economic Cooperation Organization, and at the summit of this organization in Pakistan gave a high assessment to our work during the chairmanship.
My visit to the State of Qatar was also successful. We have established very close ties with the Gulf countries. Qatar is a very close and friendly country. The Emir of Qatar has paid a visit to Azerbaijan. I also held successful talks within the framework of the reciprocal visit. We discussed in great detail the further cooperation in the political and economic spheres, in the field of investment, joint economic activity.
My successful visits to the Islamic Republic of Iran have also become a tradition. Over the past few years, I have paid three official visits to Iran. The President of Iran also regularly pays official visits to Azerbaijan. Over the past three years, I have met with the President of Iran eight times. Iran is a friendly and fraternal country for us, a close neighbor. The strengthening of ties with Iran serves the interests of our country. At the same time, it is very important for the region. This strengthens stability in the region. Very important issues were discussed in the bilateral format. Many agreements were signed again, and the agreements signed in previous years are already being implemented. All the agreements reached are being realized. There is very successful cooperation both in increasing the trade turnover – our turnover with Iran has increased by about 70 per cent – and in the fields of transport, energy, logistics and other spheres.
The seventh visit was my official visit to France. This visit is also of great importance. France is one of the leading states of the world, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a co-chair country of the Minsk Group. This visit was also very successful. The French-Azerbaijani friendly ties were confirmed again. I was shown great respect in France. The discussion of political, economic and humanitarian issues showed that French-Azerbaijani relations already have very strong foundations. This country has a great interest in Azerbaijan. The meeting I had with leading business structures of France, which lasted about two hours, demonstrated that there is indeed a great deal of interest. The work we are doing is very much appreciated, and French companies work in Azerbaijan with great enthusiasm.
Only the seven visits I have mentioned are evidence that our diplomacy is very successful and our international positions are being strengthened. Azerbaijan is a country that enjoys great respect on a global scale. Even the countries that do not maintain particularly kind relations with each other clearly show an interest in deepening cooperation when it comes to Azerbaijan. We are expanding relations with all countries, in particular, those located in the region. This is in our political and economic interest. It also strengthens the spirit of cooperation and stability in the region.
At the same time, seven heads of state visited Azerbaijan in the first quarter of this year. This is also very important, because these visits are a sign of respect for our country. Also, very serious discussions are held within the framework of visits. Look how multifaceted our international contacts are.
In the first quarter, the Fifth Global Forum was held in Azerbaijan. It is already regarded on a global scale as a major international event. More than 40 current and former heads of state and government took part in the forum. I want to mention one more event. It is also very significant. In fact, this event reflects our role in the world. I am talking about the first meeting of the chiefs of the general staffs of the US and Russian armies in Baku. The choice by both countries of Azerbaijan as the venue of the first meeting once again demonstrates their respect for us. At the same time, this clearly confirms our role. Today, Azerbaijan has proved to be a reliable partner, an independent and dignified country not only in the region, but also on a global scale. Of course, there were many other important events in the first quarter, but these are the main ones.
Of course, as always, the focus was on the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Despite the fact that Armenia is trying hard to block the negotiations, to boycott it, it cannot and will not be able to achieve that. The Minsk Group co-chair countries have repeatedly stated that the status quo is unacceptable and should be changed. In essence, this means an end to the occupation. I believe that the Minsk Group should increase pressure on Armenia and its aggressive policy, so that it observes international norms and puts an end to the occupation.
There are no and can’t be any changes in our position in the negotiations. The principle of territorial integrity is not a subject of negotiations. Azerbaijan must restore its territorial integrity. In all of international contacts, I note that no country or organization should display double standards in this matter. In some cases we are faced with double standards. Sometimes more attention is paid to other conflicts in post-Soviet republics or more precise expressions are used in connection with the settlement of these conflicts.
The Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should be resolved within the territorial integrity of our country. Unlike other conflicts in post-Soviet republics, the UN Security Council has adopted four resolutions in connection with this conflict. These resolutions are known. The whole world knows this. Armenian occupying forces should immediately and unconditionally withdraw from the occupied lands. This is the main principle beyond which no other issue can be discussed.
I should also note that despite all attempts by Armenia, its non-constructive and insincere policy has already become the object of censure. The sooner they return to the negotiating table, the better for them, as Azerbaijan becomes stronger every day. Our political, military and economic potential is growing, and sooner or later we will achieve a fair resolution of this issue the way we want.
I want to note several events related to the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that took place in the first quarter. First, I should mention the contrived "referendum" held in Nagorno-Karabakh. By conducting this "referendum", Armenia has once again disgraced and exposed itself. I have already said this and want to say once again: the more such illegal "referendums" they conduct there, the more this works for our benefit. All the neighboring countries, the Minsk Group co-chair states, the European Union and many other countries immediately condemned this "referendum". They said they did not recognize this "referendum", that Nagorno-Karabakh is an inalienable part of Azerbaijan.
By conducting this "referendum", they, in fact, prompted all countries to repeat this truth once again. Of course, by rejecting this "referendum" the entire international community demonstrated support for our territorial integrity and settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the basis of this principle.
There is another significant event. For the first time, someone who has repeatedly violated our laws, made illegal trips to Nagorno-Karabakh, insulted the Azerbaijani state and people, has been detained, transferred to Azerbaijan and brought to our country before the eyes of the whole world. Such an event occurs for the first time. This is a restoration of justice. This is a triumph of international law. All issues related to extradition were resolved on the basis of international laws and conventions. I am sure that this has become and will become a lesson both to the man who has grossly violated our laws and boasted of this, and to people like him.
There has been another important event. We have started to rebuild the village of Jojug Marjanli. I believe that this is also a historic event. A new settlement is under construction there now. First of all, 50 houses, a school, a kindergarten, a mosque and a new road are being built. In the future, another 150 houses and a medical center will be built as well. I must also note that this mosque repeats the architecture of the Shusha mosque. This was my instruction. The time will come when all our monuments and mosques destroyed by Armenian vandals will be restored. The restoration of Jujug Marjanli is a historic event, which shows that the Azerbaijani people will never put up with this occupation. At the same time, it shows that after the return of our territories, Azerbaijan will rebuild all the villages and cities. This once again demonstrates that the people of Jojug Marjanli, who have been resettled in other places for more than 20 years, will now live with the dream of returning to their native village as soon as possible, although all the houses have been destroyed and the village is not far from the line of contact. This is the love for our native land, for the Motherland. Therefore, the state, our policies, and the people are united in this. This unity encourages us even more and shows that we are on the right path. We will restore our territorial integrity.
I must also note that new buildings are built for IDPs this year too. Settlements are being built elsewhere. One of them is a large settlement being built in Tartar District. It will be commissioned in the coming months. At the same time, I am sure that the problems of IDPs residing in emergency buildings in Baku and Sumgayit will also be resolved in the near future. First of all, 4,000 IDP families living in the most difficult conditions will be resettled to new homes. This process will be implemented step by step. New buildings are built. At the same time, apartments will be purchased in the buildings constructed earlier and the displaced people will be accommodated there. I believe that the first group of IDPs will be resettled to new homes in the next few months.
Of course, to solve all these issues, we must have strong economic potential. We have created this potential. The results of the first quarter of 2017 indicate that the Azerbaijani economy is developing very dynamically. I want to bring to the attention of the public some figures. They best reflect our economic situation.
The main indicator of our economy is the development of the non-oil sector, non-oil industry and agriculture. Good results have been achieved in all these areas. The non-oil sector of the economy has increased by 2.4 per cent. Growth in the non-oil industry has been at the level of 2 per cent, agriculture has increased by 3.5 per cent. In particular, I want to note that in crop production the growth was more than 20 per cent. This shows that the work we are doing, the serious reforms and investment are already yielding results.
In the first quarter, our foreign exchange reserves increased by $1 billion. Today, our foreign exchange reserves are $38.5 billion. This is a large figure. Last year, we managed to maintain our foreign exchange reserves. Despite the fact that oil prices have plummeted, we managed not only to save them this year, but also to earn an additional $1 billion in the first three months. I am sure that within a year we will further increase our foreign exchange reserves. This is a very important issue, as it is clear to all that 2015-2016 were the years of crisis. The three- to fourfold drop in the oil price and the stagnation in the construction sector last year inevitably had a negative impact on our economic development. Perhaps some other government could find the way out only in using foreign exchange reserves. It was the easiest way. But a responsible approach and our long-term development plans, of course, dictate a different choice. It was a responsible choice where the interests of the people are above all. We quickly planned serious reforms and took prompt measures. Serious steps have been taken to restructure the economy, relevant resolutions and laws have been adopted to stimulate business, investment and exports.
Thus, we have managed to maintain economic stability and increase foreign exchange reserves. It is safe to say that most oil-rich countries have lost and are losing their currency reserves last and this year. We are increasing them.
In three months of this year, the turnover has increased by 15 per cent. This is also a very good indicator. Exports have increased by about 50 per cent. It is gratifying that our non-oil exports have grown by almost 10 per cent, while imports have dropped by 17 per cent. This is a manifestation of our policy. In order to reduce dependence on imports, we stimulated local production, created excellent conditions for businesses. In particular, the state purchased equipment for the agricultural sector, etc. We have talked a lot about that and I do not want to repeat that. The reduction of imports and the sharp increase in exports ensure our economic stability. In the first quarter alone the positive balance of our turnover was at the level of $1 billion.
These figures reflect our economic situation. If we add to this the fact that the Davos World Economic Forum awarded Azerbaijan 37th place in terms of economic competitiveness this year, the picture becomes complete. In the crisis years, we managed to raise our rating by three steps. According to the rating among developing countries, Azerbaijan shares the first and second places. Here is a real and reliable assessment of our work. We will follow this path and strengthen our economic potential.
In the first quarter, 85,000 new jobs were created, including 70,000 permanent ones. 9,000 jobs were closed. And we see a beautiful picture again. It is gratifying that the creation of jobs continues not only in the public but also in the private sector. At the previous meeting, I noted that we would create more than 40,000 jobs in the public sector this year. They have already been created. At the same time, more than 40,000 jobs were created in the private sector. This is also a manifestation of economic development.
An important event took place in connection with the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor this year. The Advisory Council of the Southern Gas Corridor held a third meeting in Baku. High-ranking representatives of all participating countries of this project, the European Commission, America and the United Kingdom once again demonstrated their support for this project. As a result of the Advisory Council meeting, a resolution was adopted where the leading role of our country was highlighted again. The implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor is already a reality. True, there are still those who want to prevent us. It is natural. We experienced this 10 years ago. I remember that when the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline was under construction, the forces that tried to deal a blow to our policy, the Armenian lobby and some circles negative about this project cited various pretexts, mostly environmental, to stop us. To a certain extent, they succeeded. I remember that some international financial institutions even delayed funding at the time. But despite this, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was opened in 2006. Today, some circles and outside forces are trying again, using environmental pretexts, to delay work on some segments of the Southern Gas Corridor. All this is completely groundless. It is just a pretext. All environmental standards are observed and all issues are coordinated. The early commissioning of the Southern Gas Corridor is important both for us and for all parties involved in this project which will benefit from it in the future. I am confident that 2017 will be a decisive year for this respect. We should mark the opening of the TANAP project next year.
Since the beginning of this year, there have been good results in the transport sector. In particular, I should note that in March of this year the first train from Azerbaijan already passed through the bridge built over the Astarachay River to Iran. We have already completed all work related to the North-South corridor on our territory. I am sure that this year joint effort will be made in the implementation of the North-South project. As for the commissioning of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, the Turkish side has already officially announced several times that this project will be delivered this year. As you know, Azerbaijan has already fulfilled all its obligations under this project.
I want to bring another figure to your attention. It relates to tourism. The number of foreign visitors to our country increased by 11 per cent last year. In the first quarter of this year, growth was already 25 per cent. This is also an excellent indicator. Of course, this has many reasons. First, we have created a modern infrastructure in Azerbaijan in recent years. We have six international airports. We have the latest aircraft. There are great roads in all our districts. There are fine hotels in Baku and the regions. All leading hotel networks operate hotels in Baku. In all our regions there is modern hotel infrastructure. Health tourism is developing. We have restored traditional tourist regions. At one time, in the Soviet period, 70,000 tourists came to Naftalan. According to the latest data, approximately 30,000-35,000 people come here for treatment every year. We have restored the resort of Galaalti, and we have done that at a high level. Those who were here in the Soviet era can see that the difference is beyond comparison. We have created other health tourist zones. New tourist sites have been commissioned. Ski resorts of "Shahdag" in Gusar and "Tufandag" in Gabala are equipped with the most modern tourist infrastructure. Who would come to our country without this? Secondly, there is stability in our country. Tourists are looking for places to go. Nobody wants to travel to risky places. They know that their security will be ensured in Azerbaijan. They know that Azerbaijan is a stable country. This is also an important factor.
Another factor is the creation of the ASAN Visa system on my instructions. I was recently informed that 40,000 visas were issued through "ASAN Visa in just three months. This system applies to those entering Azerbaijan on a visa. Citizens from more than 80 countries can receive an electronic visa now. Could tourism develop without that? Of course, our history, historical monuments, wonderful climate, hospitality of the people and diverse cuisine play a role in this, but all this was available even before. Why didn’t tourism develop then? Why didn’t we see development in this area? After I took this issue under personal control, there was a turning point. I remember repeatedly telling various state bodies to solve visa issues, because violations related to visas were harming our image. To obtain a visa at the embassy, foreigners had to overcome enormous difficulties, faced red tape and illegal demands. This issue has now been resolved once and for all. Who would come to Azerbaijan if it wasn’t for this? During meetings in some foreign countries I was told: we want to come to Azerbaijan, our people want to come but it is very difficult. People had to plan one or two weeks ahead, and it was still unclear whether they would get a visa. People had to go to another city where there is our consul. Foreign citizens had to deal with many difficulties to come to Azerbaijan. I took this issue under full control and revolutionary changes followed immediately. Therefore, the main reasons for the influx of tourists include our policies, the instructions I have given, their execution, visa and security issues, modern infrastructure, hotels, recreation areas and, of course, the beauty of Baku.
Baku is one of the most beautiful cities in the world today. But what was it like before? This is already being forgotten. There were dark streets. Remember the boulevard? People were afraid to walk on the boulevard. Nobody went for a walk along the boulevard with their family. Rundown buildings, ramshackle structures and narrow streets – this was the old Baku. Today the historical buildings of Baku have been renovated with due attention paid to our historical heritage. Icherisheher has turned into one of the most attractive historical places in the world. The length of Baku Boulevard has been increased from 3 to 16 kilometers. Major demolition work has been completed, new roads opened and parks set up. Baku is a city of parks and lakes now. We have cleared the lakes. We have cleaned the Bibiheybat Bay, which was a source of environmental disaster. We have cleaned Lake Boyukshor, which was also a source of environmental threats. Work there continues. Who would come to Azerbaijan if we hadn’t done all this? We have hosted international competitions and attracted the attention of the world. We have held the Eurovision, the European Games and Formula 1, which has an audience of 500 million people. We will hold the Games of Islamic Solidarity soon. Who would come here if all this were not there? These are the main factors, let everyone know and correctly assess this.
Next month we will host the Games of Islamic Solidarity. All preparatory work is already over. It will be a great sporting holiday. I said at the ceremony that this is not only a sporting event, but also the games of unity. By our efforts in this direction, we will strengthen the unity between Muslim countries.
Now let's move on to discussions.
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Other speakers at the meeting included Minister of Defense Industry Yavar Jamalov, Chairman of Azerbaijan Railways CJSC Javid Gurbanov, and Chairman of Azerbaijan Caspian Shipping Company Rauf Valiyev.
The head of state made a closing speech at the meeting.
Closing speech of President Ilham Aliyev
- Thus, 2017 starts quite well for us. There are good results. We must try to maintain this dynamic during the year and successfully complete 2017.
One of the important issues, of course, is macroeconomic stability. We must strengthen macroeconomic stability. We should not allow artificial price hikes. Consumer prices should always be in the spotlight. They should be under control. In general, I think that from the point of view of macroeconomic stability, 2017 will be more successful in comparison to previous years. There are grounds to say this. A prudent and very flexible policy should be conducted in this direction.
The execution of the state budget is going well. Both customs and tax authorities have exceeded the quarterly plan. This is good. At the same time, budget expenditure must be fulfilled by 100 per cent. In previous years, the funds envisaged as investment were not utilized in full in some cases. This year, both the adopted monetary program and the balance between expenses and incomes should be fully provided. The investment program for this year should be quite effective. Sufficient funds are allocated for the country’s most important projects, and things are going well in the first quarter. The investment program must be fully implemented.
I have already mentioned that we have a good financial situation. This year, we have increased our foreign exchange reserves by $1 billion dollars in three months. Our foreign reserves are more than five times higher than the external debt. I think that such a picture is quite rare in the world. In this respect, Azerbaijan, of course, is different. In many developed countries, the foreign debt exceeds the gross domestic product. Their foreign exchange reserves cannot repay even 20 per cent of the external debt. Our external debt makes up 20 per cent of the gross domestic product, which is a very low indicator. Our foreign exchange reserves are more than five times higher than the external debt. I believe that various rating agencies should take these factors into account. At the same time, as I noted in the opening speech, the economic performance in the first quarter of the year is also one of the most beautiful results.
This year there is a revival in the construction sector. This is natural because the work done last year and the decisions made are already manifesting themselves. I was informed that more than 300 new multi-storey buildings are under construction in Baku now. This in itself is an excellent indicator. Thousands of jobs are created here. Last year, we lost most of the jobs in the construction sector. This year they are being restored. The decisions made, the public investment and, of course, the revival of the private sector have brought about to a new situation. Last year, the foundation of a large town was laid through the State Agency for Housing Construction, and construction work is under way. The second project is to be implemented now. The first stage of the phase of the "White City" project has been completed. Dozens of buildings will be built in the next five years. Entrepreneurs demolish buildings in various places in Baku that are no longer usable. People living there are either paid compensation or funds to rent alternative housing space. Multi-storey houses with beautiful architecture are already being built instead of these obsolete buildings that were in a poor condition.
The first such pilot project was implemented in the Sabunchu district. I personally took part in the opening of a new building. I saw that people are very happy about this because they moved into new apartments and got rid of the buildings in an emergency condition. At the same time, I issued an order that the apartments in the new buildings should be larger. People are provided with renovated apartments which are 10 and in some cases 20 or 30 per cent bigger than before. Of course, people are very happy about this. This is also beneficial to entrepreneurs, because instead of a three- or four-storey buildings they build multi-storey blocks. They receive income, the construction sector develops, the production of building materials increases and jobs are created. This process has already become widespread. According to the latest information I have, the number of projects implemented in this way in the city of Baku has already reached 75. This process continues. I urge local executive bodies and entrepreneurs again to organize this work properly. Entrepreneurs should take the initiative, while local executive bodies, in turn, should create conditions and help them. We will thus achieve several goals here. I have already mentioned that jobs will be created, the construction sector will develop, the security and well-being of our people will be provided and our city will improve.
Another important project is connected with micro-districts. A project associated with the first micro-district has already been prepared. I am sure that it will be realized soon. New modern houses will be built in a beautiful architectural style on the site of obsolete buildings. I have given a special instruction to set up public places and kindergartens on the first floor of new buildings, in particular, the buildings erected on the site of demolished ones. Thus, the first floors of each of the 75 buildings constructed in this way will house a kindergarten. This will have a positive effect on the solution of the problem of kindergartens in Baku. Thus, we will resolve the problem of kindergartens in the next three to four years. There is a great need for this now. The population and the number of children are growing. At the same time, jobs are being created. Many families today have both parents working. Therefore, we will experience a great need for kindergartens. It is also necessary to allocate special places for the construction of kindergartens. But the best option is to have kindergartens in new buildings. Persons issuing building permits and local executive bodies should recommend that to entrepreneurs.
The main priority areas are industrial production and agriculture. There are good results in both directions. As I have already noted, the non-oil industry grew by 2 per cent and agriculture by 3.5 per cent. Currently, industrial zones are being created in the regions. At the end of this year, first plants will be commissioned in the Mingachevir industrial park. Things are going well in the Sumgayit Technological Park, the Chemical Industry Park, the Pirallahi and Balakhani industrial parks, the Neftchala industrial district. So this process is already under way. A few years ago, I ordered that an industrial zone should be built in each district. We are already seeing this. All districts should take an active part in this work.
I want to draw the attention of entrepreneurs to a major project. It is the SOCAR Polymer plant, which is being established at the Sumgayit chemical industry park. It is a huge industrial enterprise where hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested. It will produce fine products, which, of course, will be used in the country and also exported. But I should note that a very serious industrial site can be created on the basis of these raw materials. We are currently importing all the finished plastic products from abroad. But after the commissioning of SOCAR Polymer, there are good opportunities for the production of finished products in Azerbaijan. It will be a very profitable sphere for business. Therefore, I am urging our state agencies to better explain this to business people – factories can be established on the basis of many types of finished products of SOCAR Polymer. This means new jobs. At the same time, it will bring additional income to entrepreneurs, while our export products will be delivered to foreign markets at higher prices. Otherwise, SOCAR Polymer products will be sold abroad only as raw materials. Of course, this is also good, but I am sure that my advice will be taken into consideration.
During the discussion of the results of the third year in the implementation of the State Program on the Socioeconomic Development of the Districts in January this year, I spoke in great detail about the forthcoming work in the field of agriculture. All orders and instructions were given. I do not want to repeat them. I just want to note a few points. This year, in order to facilitate the development of agriculture, irrigation of new land plots of 150,000 hectares is envisaged. Funds have been allocated and these projects should be under control so that we reach this figure within a year. I believe that this will be a revolutionary transformation. This, of course, is one of the factors, perhaps even the first factor that will increase agricultural production. The volume of agricultural production must grow. We must fully meet the domestic demand. We need to increase the volume of exports, increase the yields and apply the latest technologies. It is necessary to keep accurate records of land. Work in this direction is ongoing and instructions are given. It is necessary to conduct an accurate analysis of lands using modern methods. We must have detailed information on the quality of land. We need to borrow the practice of countries that have accumulated extensive experience in this field and apply it in order to know what crops should be grown areas in what region. In other words, we should continue to approach this not spontaneously, but on an individual basis. Depending on this, subsidies should also be assessed. I have already given the appropriate instructions and we must consider this. At present, the procedure for granting subsidies is being improved. However, I believe that in the future we should adopt a more serious approach to the policy of regionalization. We need to know how much should be allocated in subsidies for the regions to cultivate produce, so that we could make more efficient use of our natural resources.
This year there are plans to put into operation two plants – the factories for pivot irrigation systems and pesticides. We must do that this year. A nitrogen fertilizer plant should be put into operation next year. We expect that in about a year. Thus, not only will we provide ourselves with nitrogen fertilizer, but we will also have opportunities for export.
In general, work aimed at self-sufficiency in food products is progressing well. I announce these figures at conferences on socioeconomic development of the regions every year. I can say that our only weakness is grain-growing. Taking this into account, I instructed the Presidential Administration to hold an extended meeting, which has been held. All instructions have been given. After that, I signed a relevant order on the development of grain production and, first of all, analysis. Extensive information should be collected, statistics analyzed correctly and answers to many questions provided. How can it be possible that we allocate a million hectares of land for grain production and cannot provide ourselves with food wheat? The question sounds simple, but there are many things to consider. Therefore, an accurate analysis should be made: how much land we need for food wheat and grain-growing in general in order to provide ourselves with quality grain and, of course, reduce dependence on imports. According to my information, we allocate about 300 million manats for imports every year. Of course, it is necessary to conduct accounting, analysis, electronic and satellite control. We have a satellite. An accurate analysis of the fertility and productivity of the land should be carried out in a short time.
Another important issue relates to the export of goods produced in the non-oil sector. This is also a successfully developing direction now. Reforms have been carried out and institutional measures taken. We have set up the Azexport domain. The Azerbaijani brand is being promoted in the world today. We have been taking part in many exhibitions. Trade houses are being created in various countries. Trade and export missions are carried out. Appropriate orders have been issued and funds allocated. It is necessary to conduct advertising campaigns in foreign media to promote the "Made in Azerbaijan" brand.
In my opening speech, I noted that exports in the non-oil sector have increased by almost 10 per cent, but the potential is even greater. Therefore, we must gain access to new export markets. We need to access traditional export markets with a wider range of products. At the same time, new export markets should be sought. We need to create logistical centers. At present, an Azerbaijani logistical center has been established in Aktau, Kazakhstan. We see that this is of great benefit. In short, this sphere is of great importance for raising both domestic production and our foreign exchange earnings.
Naturally, during the year, as always, attention will be paid to infrastructure projects and their implementation. The focus is on electricity supply. New substations are under construction, especially in regions where this is necessary. These projects should be carried out in parallel with the development of agriculture, so that they serve the population, as well as the development of agriculture.
The level of gasification in Azerbaijan is 92 per cent. This year it will increase even more. Drinking water projects must be fully implemented in the amount of envisaged investments. At the same time, we are implementing 270 small projects this year to provide the rural population with clean drinking water. The construction of these treatment plants in 170 villages will be provided through the “Azersu” OJSC and in other 100 villages through the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources. A relevant order has been signed. It lists the names of all villages. I have issued a special instruction both the residents of these villages and the persons performing these works to know that this issue is under control. If the order simply stated that it was very necessary to resolve the water problem in 100 or 200 villages and allocate so much money for that, it would be very difficult to control it: whether water is supplied to 100 or 50 villages? The order states the names of all districts and villages, and I am asking the residents of these villages also to monitor. Let them become acquainted with this order. If their village is on this list but the work is not carried out, then they should immediately inform local executive bodies and the Presidential Administration. Of course, if there are shortcomings in this, the persons who committed them will be punished accordingly. I am saying this in order to strengthen public control. I have repeatedly said that in order to strengthen public control, the public must be informed. We provide this information. This year the provision of 270 villages with modular wastewater treatment plants should be completed. The funds have been allocated and there should also be control.
Projects of rural roads are being implemented. In the current year, projects will be implemented connecting hundreds of villages. New roads are being built in the city of Baku, on the territory called Sovetskaya. A large road infrastructure is being created. There are plans to put it into operation in the near future. In general, this part of our city will turn into a beautiful area. Currently, the work is ongoing. First of all, roads are laid. They will differ from the old roads for their beauty. Whereas the width of the old roads was 3-5 meters, the width of the new ones is 15-20 meters. So this project designed for the future will greatly improve traffic in Baku. In parallel with the construction of roads, the entire area will be landscaped. Parks and a new beautiful recreation area will be created. It has been impossible to implement the project in this area for decades, but we have achieved this. I am sure that people would be satisfied. I have issued instructions to pay the compensation in full. Of course, those who rest in these parks and using these roads will also be pleased.
Other roads are also built in Baku. I have issued instructions as to where to build new arteries, as they say. One of them is a street that is currently being built parallel to Yusif Safarov Street. This street will also attract a part of the city transport. It is of great importance. Work is under way on the construction and expansion of the road Bilgah-Sumgayit road. It will allow an alternative road to connect Sumgayit with Baku, in particular the Baku villages and the international airport. The road, laid at the level of the highest standards, should be put into operation this year.
Social infrastructure projects are being implemented. I am told that three modular-type schools have already been built instead of those in an emergency condition. Twelve more modular schools are to be built in the future. This and next year, there should not be a single school left in an emergency condition in Azerbaijan. The vast majority of schools in Baku have already been renovated, new schools have been built and if there is a need for repairs somewhere, these issues are also being addressed.
In the first quarter, 13 medical institutions were built or overhauled. This year we plan to commission two Olympic centers – the Absheron and Agjabadi Olympic centers. One of the social programs is a project on medical checkups of the population. This year's project will be completed next month. Five million people will undergo free medical examination. In previous years the focus was on advocacy work for people to undergo examination, but now we see that there is no need for this. The people see and know today that this is necessary for their own health. In recent years, we have set up modern medical facilities in all our districts. There are the most modern laboratories. The latest equipment is available, and it is possible to conduct any examination even in small areas now.
The focus is always on increasing employment in the regions. I have repeatedly said that we should always pay attention to this issue, because the population is growing and will continue to increase this year and beyond. A growing population will need new jobs in the future. The demographic situation in Azerbaijan is very good. The population is growing. This should encourage us to work even harder. Therefore, increasing the employment rate will always be on the agenda. We are addressing this issue. I have already mentioned that 70,000 permanent jobs have been created both in the public and private sectors. Together with seasonal work, it is 85,000 jobs. This is a large figure for three months, and we must continue this work. At the same time, the program of self-employment should be expanded. First steps have already been taken. These projects should be implemented by state bodies, local executive bodies and private businesses. Every family, i.e. a family still living in poverty, should be able to provide for itself, and we must create these opportunities. Of course, the government always shows attention and care for citizens living in a difficult situation. A program on targeted social assistance is being implemented. But we must gradually move on to the system of self-employment. It is more profitable and better for the citizens themselves.
They will have their own family budget. We simply need to help them. In rural areas, it is necessary to create conditions for them and provide with cattle and poultry. An important role here can be played by beekeeping and livestock farming, so that they could provide their own budget themselves. At the initial stage, of course, the government will help them. Therefore, the Cabinet of Ministers should pay special attention to the program of self-employment. I repeat that it is necessary for all relevant departments and agencies to pursue a unified policy. This work, of course, is carried out by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population, but I believe that other ministries, the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Agriculture, local executive bodies and entrepreneurs, should also get involved in this. It is necessary to regularly tell me what work has been done in this direction.
This year, the process of granting soft loans related to the development of entrepreneurship will be continued. Soft loans worth 150 million manats will be provided. At the same time, I should note that, in accordance with our policy, a process has been taking place in recent years whereby 32 large-scale farms have been created in Azerbaijan. The area under cultivation in these farms is 44,000 hectares. A total of 33 agro-parks are being established on 142,000 hectares in 24 districts. The funds spent on the establishment of agro-park data are 1 billion manats. These 33 agro-parks and the 32 large farms created before this will have a very big impact on increasing the yields, meeting the domestic demand and increasing the export potential, especially if we consider that these agricultural parks and farms are built on the basis of modern technology.
We, both state bodies and local executive authorities, should work harder to attract foreign investments. Local executive authorities should also attract investment. They should attract both local and foreign entrepreneurs. There should be greater initiative from the ground.
I would like to note another issue: our budget organizations should fully pay for the cost of the electricity used.
This year, two “ASAN xidmət” centers should be opened in Guba and Mingachevir. This should happen before the end of the year. The funds are envisaged, and the construction of two centers is under way in the cities of Imishli and Shaki. Thus, these two centers should also be commissioned next year.
These are the main tasks we are facing. Let me repeat that the first quarter of the year is encouraging. It shows once again that our forecasts are being fulfilled and the policies are quite successful. We must do everything possible to maintain this positive momentum by the end of this year in order to further strengthen our country. Thank you.