Ambassador: Azerbaijan-Belgium economic ties are excellent, but always can improve - INTERVIEW

In this region, Baku can play the role of the place where leaders of major countries meet as Brussels is in Europe

Baku. 1 September. REPORT.AZ/ Report News Agency presents an interview with newly appointed Ambassador of Belgium to Azerbaijan Bert Schoofs.

- First of all, could you please give us information about yourself?

- I am 49 years old. I studied law public management at Leuven University in Belgium. Before being appointed to Azerbaijan I worked in Brussels, Moscow, New Delhi, Belgrade and Vienna.

- How do you assess the bilateral ties between Belgium and Azerbaijan? Which areas of bilateral cooperation are the most active? Can we expect any visits from or to Belgium this and next year?

- The bilateral ties are excellent. Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Reynders paid an official visit to Azerbaijan in April 2015 and he regularly meets with Azerbaijani Minister of Foreign Affairs Elmar Mammadyarov on the sidelines of international summits. And in April 2016 Azerbaijani Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Khalaf Khalafov was in Brussels for bilateral political consultations.

There are more, mostly, geographical similarities between both countries than you think. As Azerbaijan is on the crossroad between 3 major players Russia, Iran and Turkey, Belgium is situated between 3 major countries in Europe: Germany, France and the United Kingdom. So it is not a coincidence that headquarters of EU and NATO are in Brussels. The recent trilateral meeting between the Presidents of Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan shows that Baku can play the role of place where leaders of major countries meet as Brussels in Europe.

No high level bilateral political visits planned at the moment, but that can change rapidly.

- What can you say about economic ties?

- Economic ties are good but can still improve. Of course Belgian companies are active in the oil and gas sector in Azerbaijan, but also in construction and logistics. But in order to accelerate the diversification of the economy of Azerbaijan it is my role to highlight those sectors where Belgian companies are worldwide known for. Additionally, I would like to mention, port services, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, waste and water management, innovation and technology in the field of agriculture.

- What's the position of your country regarding Nagorno-Karabakh issue?

- The position of Belgium is clear and was well expressed by Minister Reynders during his visit to Baku in April 2015.

First of all, Belgium demands respect for international law. There are UN Resolutions clearly expressing “respect and support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan within its internationally recognized borders”.

Secondly, Belgium is convinced that there is no military solution to the conflict. Decisions can only be taken through dialogue. Therefore, Belgium fully supports the OSCE Minsk Group and its efforts to get closer to an agreed solution.

Finally, during my Minister’s visit in 2015, he clearly drew attention to the problem of the many refugees and IDPs that Azerbaijan has been facing over two decades. We tend to forget that the main victims in this kind of conflicts are citizens like you and me.

- Belgium faced many terrorist attack this and previous year. How can Belgium and Azerbaijan cooperate in the area of combating terrorism?

- On 22 March 2016, bomb blasts in Brussels Airport and metro station Maelbeek, but also On 24 May 2014, terrorist attack on the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, are black days in the history of my country.I would seize the occasion to thank Azerbaijan and its population for the sincere condolences they offered in these difficult moments.

A large part of the world suffers from terrorism, not only in Europe, but also the in the Middle East and Asia. Therefore, combating terrorism is a global challenge. Belgium and Azerbaijan have both nationals active as foreign fighters in Syria, so they could cooperate even betterin exchanging more information.

- Belgium has rich cuisine and very tasty chocolate. Do you have plans to organize some events regarding Belgium culture or open a Belgian shop or magazine in Baku?

- The following months Belgium participates in two major European cultural events - “Eurovillage” that will take place on October 1 in Baku and the European Film Festival in November in Baku. And yes, during “Eurovillage” some aspects of the Belgian cuisine will be presented. By the way, you do find Belgian chocolate in Baku. Just google.

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