Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s official visit to France began with a show of economic strength, as the president’s two-day visit kicked off with meetings with heads of the leading French companies and businessmen, who were eager to do business with Azerbaijan.
Such big-name French companies as SUEZ, CIFAL Group, Airbus, Thales International and Total were the first in line to meet with President Aliyev and voice readiness to continue cooperation with Azerbaijan.
Meeting with the members of MEDEF (Movement of the Enterprises of France) International in Paris on the first day of his visit, President Aliyev said that many projects have been implemented and many French companies successfully work in Azerbaijan, further mentioning that the total investments in the economy are more than $2 billion, primarily in energy sector.
Mentioning that the volume of contracts signed by the government structures of Azerbaijan and French companies is close to $2 billion, the president attributed this to potential of Azerbaijan and interest that the French business circles show in working in Azerbaijan.
As the global energy sector still shows volatility, Azerbaijan is betting on the non-oil sector and has created very good conditions for local and foreign business groups to work and to invest, and to be good contractors.
Stable economic and political situation in Azerbaijan is one of the main prerequisites for attractiveness of the economy. The Azerbaijani government has developed a very substantial reform package aimed at diversifying the economy, which received very strong support from international financial institutions. The country invested largely in industry and agriculture and is also looking for the markets for export of its non-oil products.
The Davos World Economic Forum ranks Azerbaijan’s economy number 37 with respect to competitiveness. The country has a very low foreign debt, which is 20 percent of our GDP, while its hard currency reserves are more than five times bigger than the foreign debt. Moreover, all the investments of foreign companies and local companies are duly protected, thus creating additional incentives and interest in investing in Azerbaijan.
Talking about the conflict, President Aliyev also warned French companies over illegal activities in the Armenian-occupied territories.
“It violates international law, it violates our legislation. Azerbaijan is taking serious steps in order to raise this issue on the international arena, including our application to international judiciary institutions. Therefore, I would like to express this concern, and send the message to those companies, which illegally work on our land, just to refrain from this activity. It will not bring a lot of profit, but it can create a lot of complications,” the president said, noting that this is not in line with very good friendly relations between the two countries.
President Aliyev, making a press statement following his meeting with French President Francois Hollande, repeated a theme he first raised at meeting with MEDEF, stressing that even more French companies can work in Azerbaijan as contractors.
“French companies support us in the development of the space industry of Azerbaijan. At the same time, projects are being implemented in the field of municipal transport, transportation, infrastructure, water, drinking water, environment, and etc. We are very pleased with this cooperation.”
“In the meetings held with French companies, I convinced them again that Azerbaijan has a wonderful climate for foreign investment. At the same time, Azerbaijan's economic potential is growing. Thus, even more French companies can work in Azerbaijan as contractors,” said the President, calling on prominent French companies to come to Azerbaijan and implement projects related to modernization and increase of agricultural productivity.
France is the most dominant agricultural center of Europe: its share of the value in EU agricultural production is 18.1 percent. The sector plays the role of a crucial driver of growth and employment, as it ensures jobs for over 1.4 million people and provides 3.5 percent of national GDP.
The Azerbaijani president also hailed the current level of the bilateral relations, saying “the political dialogue that has developed between us has entered a very active stage ”.
“We see that our positions on many issues overlap. Our strong political relations, of course, have a positive impact on all spheres,” he said.
President Aliyev also drew attention to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which can be regarded as the most important interaction point between Baku and France in the political sphere.
The president hailed the efforts France made as a member of the OSCE Minsk Group established to mediate a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and once again pointed to the fact that Armenia is the side refusing to engage in constructive talks.
“In particular, I want to emphasize the meeting I held with the President of Armenia on your initiative at the Elysee Palace at the end of 2014. It was a very constructive and positive meeting. Unfortunately, after that meeting there was certain stagnation in the negotiations. We want to resolve the issue on the basis of norms and principles of international law as soon as possible,” he said.
President Hollande, in turn, stated that the status quo is unacceptable in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, further alluding that there are risks, and this was confirmed last April when the incident happened.
“As a co-chair of the Minsk Group, we want other co-chairs, the United States and Russia, to contribute to this process. We think that the parameters are known and it is possible to find a solution to this protracted conflict,” he said.
Francois Hollande also spoke about the tension between Europe and Turkey. “Our role is to clearly state what we accept and what not. We have to contribute to the stabilization of relations between Europe and Turkey,” he added.
The French leader hailed the role of Azerbaijan in holding talks with all its partners in the region and outside the region, further saying: “Our only goal is peace. We are looking for peace not only in the region, but we are also looking for peace to end terrorism that is posing a threat at the global level and that we face.”
The two countries appraised relations in humanitarian area, mentioning activity of Baku French Lycée and Azerbaijani-French University as one of the greatest achievements in educational area.
Azerbaijan attaches great importance to the humanitarian area, which have reached a completely new level in the past few years.
The Azerbaijani government contributed to the establishment of the Islamic Arts Department at Louvre, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation contributed to the restoration of the Cathedral Church in Strasbourg and historic and architectural monuments in other regions of France.
Supported by the Foundation, there were organized exhibitions, concerts and other events in the French capital and 20 cities with the aim of promoting Azerbaijan’s culture and arts. Some 12 sister city agreements signed between cities and districts of Azerbaijan and France over the last years.
The French government, seeing a trade and investment relationship with Azerbaijan as highly perspective, has spared no effort in making President Aliyev’s visit special. Over the two days of the visit, there were substantial meetings with President of the French Senate Gerard Larcher, President of the French National Assembly Claude Bartolone, as well as more social encounters at the official welcome and state banquet for President Ilham Aliyev and first lady Mehriban Aliyeva.
The visit was also remembered for support it received from Azerbaijani Diaspora in France and friends of Azerbaijan in France. More than 400 Azerbaijanis joined the rally in support of President Ilham Aliyev at Place Joffre square in Paris.