China, Azerbaijan to embrace closer trade ties under CIIE platform
Shahin Mustafayev, minister of economy of the Azerbaijan Republic and co-chair of the Azerbaijan-China Intergovernmental Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation. Photo: Courtesy of the Ministry of Economy of Azerbaijan Republic
In recent years, economic ties between China and Azerbaijan have become ever-closer with both trade and investment growing fast. Located in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, Azerbaijan also occupies an important geographical position on the route of the Belt and Road initiative (BRI). However, despite growing economic interactions, Chinese people's understanding of Azerbaijan is still limited, which constitutes a barrier to closer communications.
It is anticipated that China's reform and opening-up, notably through the China International Import Expo (CIIE) platform, can provide an opportunity for Azerbaijan to boost trade with China.
In a recent interview with the Global Times (GT), Shahin Mustafayev (Mustafayev), the minister of economy of the Azerbaijan Republic and co-chair of the Azerbaijan-China Intergovernmental Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation shared his views on the status and prospects for China-Azerbaijan economic cooperation.
GT: What is the status of trade between China and Azerbaijan?
Mustafayev: Trade between China and Azerbaijan has grown several times in recent years. In 2017, bilateral trade reached $1.3 billion, up 20 percent year-on-year. Last year, about $850 million worth of products were exported from China to Azerbaijan.
Traditionally, Azerbaijan mostly exports oil, raw materials and chemical products to China. But since last year, exports to China expanded to other sectors such as agriculture, food and wine.
Azerbaijan imports a wide range of products from China, including cars, machinery, mechanical equipment, furniture, textile and plastic. I believe that the two countries have great potential for trade cooperation, and trade volume can increase several times.
GT: How can China and Azerbaijan deepen bilateral trade? What measures will the government of Azerbaijan take to boost trade?
Mustafayev: I believe that Azerbaijan can export more of its high-quality agricultural products, including cotton, tobacco, grape wine and some aluminum and chemical products to China. We also welcome high-quality imports from Chinese companies.
Azerbaijan has taken many measures to facilitate bilateral trade. In the past year, Azerbaijan appointed a trade representative to China. In September this year, an Azerbaijan wine house was opened in Urumqi, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and an Azerbaijan trading house in Luzhou, Sichuan Province, as well as another wine house in the Shanghai Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone. Products from Azerbaijan are also available at DIG supermarkets and soon to be introduced at G-Super supermarket chain in Shanghai.
Next year, we will continue to set up trade and wine houses in different regions in China.
In the past we have made good use of the convenient conditions provided by China's reform and opening-up, and we decided to make good use of the CIIE platform to boost trade with China.
GT: How did Azerbaijan participate in the first CIIE and what do you think of the event?
Mustafayev: Azerbaijan sent a big delegation, comprised of 32 companies and 60 members, to the CIIE. You can see from the scale of our delegation that Azerbaijan attached great importance to this event.
Companies from our delegation presented about 180 types of products at the CIIE. I also personally visited our pavilion and found that Chinese visitors had a great interest in the products that we displayed.
I also attended the opening ceremony of the CIIE and was very much impressed by the speech made by Chinese President Xi Jinping during the ceremony about China's plans to continue its opening-up policy.
Nowadays, some countries are taking protectionist measures, and there are many sanctions and restrictions in this world. It is of great significance that China adopts such an open policy and creates such good opportunities for all economies.
I know that the CIIE will be held annually, and I plan to attend the event every year.
GT: Does Azerbaijan welcome overseas investment, particularly from China?
Mustafayev: Chinese companies' investment in Azerbaijan amounts to about $800 million. There are 112 Chinese companies that have poured capital into Azerbaijan. For example, there are three concrete plants in Azerbaijan, successfully built up by Chinese contractors.
The government of Azerbaijan is constantly implementing new measures to improve our country's business environment. On October 31, the World Bank published a new report on "Doing Business 2019" where Azerbaijan came in as one of the world's top ten reformers. At the same time it climbed 32 spots in comparison with the 2017 report and achieved 25th rank among 190 economies in the ease of doing business. We hope that Chinese companies can make good use of the convenient conditions in Azerbaijan. The government of Azerbaijan will also support investment from Chinese companies.
I want to emphasize that China and Azerbaijan can cooperate further in the high-tech sector. Chinese high-tech communications companies Huawei and ZTE are both operating successfully in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan is also working with China in the tourism sector. There are direct flights between the two countries and visas on arrival for Chinese citizens. Chinese tourists traveling to Azerbaijan show 62 percent year-on-year growth, but I think there's still greater potential to explore in this area.
GT: How has the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) affected Azerbaijan's economic development?
Mustafayev: Azerbaijan is very supportive of the BRI, which was proposed by the Chinese government. In 2015, during the official visit by Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev to China a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two countries to jointly push forward the Silk Road Economic Belt.
Azerbaijan was one of the first batch of countries that supported the BRI, and it has participated in the initiative with concrete measures. For example, we have launched the Trans-Caspian Transport Corridor, a project that connects China and Europe.
Also, Azerbaijan's new Baku International Sea Trade Port officially started operations in May. I would like to express my gratitude to Chinese government for providing equipment worth about $3 million to the port.