Opening speech by Ilham Aliyev at the meeting of Cabinet meeting on results of first quarter of 2017 and future tasks10 april 2017, 11:45
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.