Ambassador: French enterprises ready to support diversification process in Azerbaijan's economy - INTERVIEW

Next meeting of France-Azerbaijan Economic Commission will be held in Paris in late 2016

Baku. 5 September. REPORT.AZ/ Report News Agency presents an Interview with French Ambassador to Azerbaijan Mrs. Aurelia Bouchez.

- The Azerbaijani-French University will be opened in Baku this autumn. Could you provide more information on how it will work? How many Azerbaijani students will be able to benefit from studying here annually?

- An ambitious project initiated by the Presidents of the French Republic and the Republic of Azerbaijan was launched in 2014 and led to the opening of The Azerbaijani-French University (UFAZ) on September 2016.

UFAZ is a joint project directed by the University of Strasbourg (Unistra) and the Azerbaijan State Oil and Industry University (ASOIU) teaching chemical engineering, oil engineering, geophysics and computer science and offering a double degree program (French & Azerbaijani diplomas) at the bachelor level recognized in France and Azerbaijan. An international academic staff of high qualified French and Azerbaijani professors will deliver lectures mainly in English language, while French language will be gradually integrated in the future. Governmental scholarships covering the 4 years of the whole program will be provided to the 120 students, out of the 160, enrolling in UFAZ in September 2016.

- A number of large French companies as Alstom, Bombardier, Thales take part in the projects for modernization of the signal system at Azerbaijani railways, as well as the modernization of Baku Metro. Is growth of French companies' participation in Azerbaijan and their participation in new infrastructure projects planned?

- Azerbaijan ranked 4th in our exports among the CIS countries, following Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan and currently, France's largest trading partner in the Caucasus. In 2015, trade turnover amounted to 1.3 billion EUR. The trade relations are closely related to the field of hydrocarbons. Reduction in the exchanges' amount is caused by fall in oil prices in 2014 and 2015. Our export to Azerbaijan made 175 million EUR in 2015. The main export goods are vehicles, mechanical equipment, electrical, electronics and computer equipment as well as chemicals, perfumes and cosmetics goods. According to the local statistics, 1.8% of Azerbaijani import accounted for French products in 2014. In 2015, our import from Azerbaijan was equal to 1.13 billion EUR. Large amount of this figure (98-99%) constituted on hydrocarbons. Oil prices fell in 2015 and, therefore, decrease is being observed in the amount of our imports and in total turnover as a result. According to the local statistics, exchanges with France consist 5.4% of Azerbaijan's foreign trade and the country is our 6th customer. The trade balance is traditionally in favour of Azerbaijan. In 2015, the figure amounted to 955 million Euros. France acts in the field of consumer goods as energy, finance, transportation, environment, food and franchise chain stores, which gradually grow in the capital. Currently, up to 40 French enterprises operate in Azerbaijan. They have signed important contracts with Azerbaijan: CNIM (waste processing and energy restoration), Iveco (bus), Spot 7 (satellite), Arianespace (2nd telecommunications satellite launch), Thales (air traffic management + metro equipment), Axens (reconstruction of Baku Oil Refinery), Alstom (railway locomotives).

How the financial crisis has affected to this cooperation?

- The economic crisis has led to the freezing of a number of Azerbaijani investments. The Azerbaijani government has decided to diversify the country's economy in order to ensure economic development. The French enterprises are ready to support the process of diversification of economy as it contributes to the development of French-Azerbaijani partnership. Announced reforms will be continued as a result of such development, which is advantageous for both countries. It should be noted that Engie company will be main purchaser of Shah Deniz 2 gas among the European Union countries. France is an important country, which makes foreign investment in Azerbaijan: according to the local statistics, in 2014, 6.7% of foreign investments in Azerbaijan accounts for France.

- How would you assess development of economic and humanitarian cooperation between Azerbaijan and France?

- A cooperation framework is available to develop this partnership. France and Azerbaijan have signed a bilateral agreement on investment protection (was signed in 1998 and entered into force in 2000) and double taxation avoidance convention (signed in 2001 and entered into force in 2005). France-Azerbaijan Economic Commission alternately holds meetings in the two countries. Its aim is to stimulate bilateral economic relations. The last meeting was held in Baku on November 26, 2013 under chairmanships of Azerbaijani Minister of Finance and French Minister of State for Foreign Trade. The next meeting will be held in Paris in late 2016. President Francois Hollande, who paid a visit to Baku in May 2014, has given scope to the development of France-Azerbaijan economic relations. During the visit, French and Azerbaijani companies signed 11 documents, giving impetus to the intensification of bilateral relations in the fields of economy, culture and education. In May 2016, 44-member delegation of MEDEF International, which represent 28 companies covering 12 activity areas (banking, construction and infrastructure, telecommunications, transport, logistics, urban services and environment, defence, energy, tourism, consulting, real estate, agriculture and food products) arrived in Baku. Visit of the delegation, representing French private sector, took place after President Francois Hollande's state visit to Baku in 2014. The delegation was friendly welcomed in Baku and received by President Ilham Aliyev. It has created a condition to discuss prospects of the cooperation. The meetings also were held with Economy and Finance Ministers of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Number of the delegation members as well as variety of the sectors demonstrated France's interest in investing in Azerbaijan and expansion of the bilateral exchanges. This visit proves confidence of French companies in the future development of Azerbaijan's economy. The French Development Agency has held many visits to Azerbaijan for the purpose to research new sectors of the corporation and develop economic relations between France and Azerbaijan.

- Which steps are being taken for the development of cooperation in the field of tourism? Has an increase been observed in number of Azerbaijani tourists visiting France in recent years? Has Azerbaijan become even more attractive for French tourists after hosting several major international sporting events?

- Tourism sector is an area of great importance for our country. It consists 7% of the GDP and provides 2 million jobs. Increase in number of the visas issued is an evidence of our country's growing attractiveness in Azerbaijan. The Consular Section had issued 7 685 visas in 2010, while in 2015 this figure was equal to 17 467. However, decrease was observed in the first quarter of 2016 due to the crisis. Tourist exchange between France and Azerbaijan will continue further as rich historical heritage and fascinating nature are of mutual attraction of the two countries.

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