Ambassador of Italy: Since my arrival I understood how crucial resolution of the conflict is for Azerbaijan - INTERVIEW

I believe Azerbaijan can bear the current situation of decreasing oil prices and to make an opportunity out of it to diversify its economy

Baku.13 March.REPORT.AZ/ The Ambassador of Italy to Azerbaijan Mr. Giampaolo Cutillo gave an interview to the Report News Agency. 

- Mr. Ambassador, how do you evaluate development in bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Italy?

- Italy and Azerbaijan have an excellent relation. Since I came here we had high level visits from both sides. The Prime-Minister of Italy has visited Baku, the President of Azerbaijan visited Rome last year and we are prepared to more and more exchange of visits. I would say that economical relations between the two countries have increased- we have reached the level of a strategic partnership in all sectors. Energy, of course, is an important part of this business, but it is not only that. Our cooperation in other spheres is growing, including the fields of political exchanges and culture. We are getting closer and closer.

In economy our main commitment for the coming years is the construction of the Southern gas corridor, which will connect the Caspian shore with Europe, in the southern coast of Italy. This is something we have been working on with the Azerbaijani government for the last few years, because there is a mutual commitment to carry the project forward and, of course, many other countries are involved.

Apart from that, I would say that, our goal is to bring more Italian companies and increase the Italian presence in Azerbaijan. There is no doubt that Azerbaijan needs to diversify its economy, to strengthen many other non-oil sectors. From that point of view Italy is very well positioned with its companies, its know-how, its technologies to contribute to these efforts. That would be mutually beneficial for Azerbaijan and Italy.

For the time being we have around 40-50 Italian companies, which are somehow based in Azerbaijan. It’s a figure that can vary and it's increasing. In the coming couple of years we expect an even bigger number.

- Italy is Azerbaijan's largest trade partner. What is the trade turnover between our countries, in which spheres the trade should be increased, taking into account the recent financial crisis and decreasing oil prices?

- Everybody knows that Italy is Azerbaijan's main customer. It is the single largest importer of oil from Azerbaijan which makes Azerbaijan one of our largest suppliers. In future we will still deal with oil, but the role of gas will definitely increase. Starting from 2019-2020 we expect the Azerbaijani gas to reach Europe, through Italy and will be an important part of our cooperation.

The oil market for its own nature has its cycles and price fluctuations. So you may have increases and decreases, this is normal, it is the part of the business. It's difficult to forecast. I believe Azerbaijan is in a position to bear the current situation of decreasing oil prices and to make an opportunity out of it to strengthen and diversify its economy in non-oil sectors. I think there is a political will to do that.

- What are the perspectives on Azerbaijani gas supply to Europe and its competitiveness in the European market?

- At the beginning the Southern corridor will transport a volume of about 10 bcm per year. 8 of them will reach Italy and there is a potential to increase this amount over the years. So there might be a capacity for 20 or 30 bcm. That will depend on the demand from Europe and also by possible additional suppliers along the route, as there are several other countries that could contribute to this process through the TANAP and TAP projects.

Italy is strategically positioned in the center of the Mediterranean. That will work as a regional transit hub towards Central Europe and those countries that have already committed to buy gas from Azerbaijan.

- How do you see the perspectives of Central Asian (Turkmen) gas supplies to Europe?

- Italy and the EU have a positive approach on that. We are in favour of this development. But it does not depend on us, but from the results of negotiations, political process, which will involve the two countries - Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. But we consider it would be a very positive development if an agreement on building this pipeline is reached.

- What non-oil spheres of bilateral cooperation could be developed in near future?

- One of the most interesting figures about Italy is that we are among the world Top-5 exporters, in terms of manifacturing surplus. That means that in every field you would find Italian companies which are ranked very high in the international arena in terms of export and manufactoring. Some of the most famous sectors have do with fashion, design, food and wine - the sectors that are working well in Azerbaijan too.

We also pay attention to technologies, because Italian machinery and equipments in industrial sectors is also a very important part of our export. We have an increasing export to Azerbaijan. This is a mutually beneficial process. In mid and longterm perspective I would expect more investments from both sides.

- Is Italy satisfied with the level of cooperation development in the humanitarian sphere? Are there any student exchange programs or projects?

- There are several ongoing cooperations between Italian and Azerbaijani universities. I would like to say that the number of Azerbaijani students choosing Italian language and the quantity of students who want to go to Italy and study has increased. We do have many international courses that provide an opportunity to study in English also. So there are growing opportunities for students in Italy. About few hundreds Azerbaijan students currently study in Italy.

- New Visa Information System, which allows Schengen States to exchange visa data, entered into force in Azerbaijan. Has visa application inflow to the Embassy increased? Could you provide the data on this issue?

- It's our customers to decide, but my feedback is that it has been working quite efficiently. The number of issued visa increased by more than 20% last year. In 2014 we issued about 10 thousand visas. And we are confident that this number may increase again in 2015. The process now has been made much simpler to the general public. It became quite speed and efficient. Now in approximately 2 or 3 working days you can get a visa and travel to Italy. This will benefit the business, but also tourism and culture.

Italy is one of the greatest global destinations for tourism. Particularly this year we look forward to have more visitors for the Universal Expo. We will have such a huge event in Milan from the 1st of May up to the end of October. We expect up to 20 mln. visitors to participate in this event, where arounf 140 Countries will be represented. Azerbaijan is among the countries that will establish a national pavilion there, which will reflect Azerbaijani culture and diversity.

- This year Azerbaijan will host the First European games. How many sportsmen from Italy to participate in the event?

- Yes, it’s an important year for both countries. We are looking forward to receiving visitors from Azerbaijan, but at the same time we will have a very strong Italian representation during the European games in Baku.

To my knowledge Italy will be one of the three strongest national teams: about 300 athletes will participate in the Games.

I believe this will be a very important opportunity for Azerbaijan to show to the rest of Europe and rest of the world the great achievements of this country, its progressive nature, development and also its traditions, its culture, the beautiful city of Baku. So I really hope that Italy and the Italian team will contribute to this games. We are planning some cultural events during the Games and I really hope they will be very attractive for the Azerbaijni public.

- Italy is OSCE Minsk group country dealing with Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution. How do you see the prospects of the settlement of the conflict taking into the account that it is does not move forward for 20 years?

- Unfortunately not much progres has been achieved over the last few months in the negotiation process. But it is certainly something positive that there is a dialogue. There have been several high level meetings between the two parties of the conflict and Italy is commited to support the work of the three Co-chairs. It is a very complex and difficult issue. We do hope that the Minsk group and the three co-chairs's activity will sooner or later bring some concrete results.

At the same time, on the personal level I can say that since my arrival in Azerbaijan I really understood how crucial and painful this issue is for the whole country. I really believe that something must be done to find a solution, which is acceptable for the people of Azerbaijan and in respect with the history and identity of this country. And from that point of view the status-quo is not the solution, something must be done. I hope that Italy and the EU can play a positive role in this process.

- Don't you think that Italy and other Minsk group countries shoul be more active in this issue?

- There might be room for a more active contribution, but in order to do that a specific request from the both sides of the conflict- from Azerbaijan and Armenia- would be needed.

My understading isthat they have agreed on this format, so it would be difficult to change it. The most important thing is therefore to build on this format. There are three big countries which are working together on this issue and the whole international community has the opportunity to support their efforts. But in the end, of course, the solution lies on two parties. From that point of view I think that the Minsk group is the main tool that we have. 

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