Official: The games are an opportunity for Azerbaijan to be more engaged with Europe

Sevinj Hasanova [Ministry of Economy and Industry of Azerbaijan]

This article is part of our special report Baku 2015 European Games.

SPECIAL REPORT / External relations are very important for Azerbaijan, and the European Games open another door to Europe, Sevinj Hasanova, Deputy Minister of Economy and Industry of Azerbaijan, told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

Sevinj Hasanova is Deputy Minister of Economy and Industry since 2006. Before joining the Ministry worked in the Ministry of Finance and in cooperation with different international organizations. Major fields: strategic development, macroeconomic forecasting, public finance.

What do the Baku 2015 European games mean for your country?

The first European games are important not only for Azerbaijan, but for Europe at large. We are really proud that the first ever European Games will take place in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is not a large country, it has some 10 million people and 86 square kilometres of territory,. However, we are an open economy and broadening our external relations is very important for us. To that end the European Games open another door to Europe, which extends the opportunity of being more engaged with the European countries.

Azerbaijan is aiming to become a tourism centre as well. Tourism is becoming an ever larger sector of our economy and for its development spreading information about the country is critical. The games will be a great opportunity to show more of Azerbaijan, of our beautiful country, to show what we have, who we are, what is our culture, what is our history.

A first impression of Baku is that a lot of constructionis taking place. There is a feeling of growth. Isn’t the wealth of the country too dependent on the piece of oil?

We have hydrocarbon reserves, which we try to use in the efficient way. From the early days of oil revenue windfall we try to follow a strategy which allows us to distribute the oil revenue not only among the people living now, but to preserve it for the future generations as well. In 1999 we established a sovereign Oil Fund. And we have accumulated enough of reserves to shelter us from the external markets shocks such as the fall of oil prices since the end of the last year.

As in case with all oil exporting countries the fall of oil prices influences our revenues, the speed of our constructions works, our public investment volumes. However, created reserves, steps taken in diversification of economy helps us to cross the difficult times relatively easily. As you have seen, constructions are going on, and there are a number of private constructions, often with foreign investment. This is very much due to the fact that for the last 10 years and more we paid attention to bettering the business environment. We have been among the top reformers in doing business report since 2009, and according to World Economic Forum reports over the last six years we have been the most competitive country among the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). We are continuing our work in improving the business environment, and the overall competitiveness of the country In accordance with strategic development objectives formulated in “Azerbaijan 2020 – Vision for the Future” we will continue to diversify our economy, develop our competitive sectors including agriculture, industry, and tourism.

I was listening to your president, Ilham Aliev, who said on 18 May, at the World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, that Azerbaijan attaches a lot of importance to education and that 100% of its population is literate. How important is human capital for the country’s development? It is an important asset for investors?

As we know investors do need resources, natural or climatic, they need financial capital, but they also need people who will put them together for the business. Education has traditionally been of high priority in Azerbaijan, this is probably due to our historic development. As mister President Ilham Aliyev stressed out in the Forum, our country was the first Islamic democracy built in 1918 and that at the time our women received voting rights so it was the first universal suffrage in the East and much earlier than in many European countries. In every Azerbaijani family you can see the desire to learn, the desire to get higher education, the desire from the parent’s side to give a better education for their children. Indeed, the degree of literacy is quite high in Azerbaijan. Our development challenges put more demand on higher education and skills development, where reforms are speeding up.

I realise that as part of the Soviet legacy, there are also many polluted areas, mostly with oil. What is the country doing at present to address this problem?

Just near the Olympic Stadium, you can see a lake which was very polluted before. It was impossible to stand by the lake even for a few minutes, but now it has been cleaned. This is the kind of attention many polluted areas are receiving. Many areas have been polluted over the decades, and now we need to deal with the problem, and pay more attention to the environment. That’s what we try to do.

What do you expect in the future of relations with the EU?

The European countries are among our major strategic partners and the development of relations with each member of the EU is very important for Azerbaijan. Those countries are major consumers of our oil and oil products and we hope, will become destinations for our non-oil economy products. Cooperation in energy security, EU investments in Azerbaijan with technology and know-how transfer, as well as Azerbaijan investments in EU countries, including our State Oil Fund’s investments make our partnership mutually beneficial. I hope future strategic partnership between EU and Azerbaijan will be strengthened and developed for the convenience of both parties.

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