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Friday, 06 April 2018 16:00

Our focus is on hosting the first Azerbaijan-Arab Investment Business Forum, Elshan Rahimov Featured

Caspian Energy (CE): Mr. Rahimov, the Association for Azerbaijan-Arab Countries Cooperation (AACC) has been working since 2017. Could you please tell about the progress you have achieved for the moment?

Elshan Rahimov, Chairman of the Association for Azerbaijan-Arab Countries Cooperation (AACC): AACC was established on December 28, 2016. Our active work commenced from the first press conference held on April 22, 2017, where we announced the start of our activities as Association. At the moment the Association employs about 10 people, who are the permanent staff members. At AACC we have the Marketing Department, the Department of International Relations. We also have the Chief Executive Officer of the Association and the office employees. In answer to your question about the results achieved to date, I would say that the primary goal of our Association is to establish simultaneously trade, social and public relations, as well as business contacts with the Arab countries in order to stir up even greater interest of Arab investors towards Azerbaijan. Speaking of the “Arab world”, we imply a very extensive geography, stretching from the northwest coast of Africa towards Central Asia. The Arab world encompasses 22 countries and our strong priority is, of course, on cooperation with the Persian Gulf states because the high concentration of capital and geographical proximity enable us to work more effectively and attract foreign capital from this region. The least geographically accessible countries like Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, and Libya are getting closer from the geographical viewpoint, since Azerbaijan is developing into a center of global transport routes such as One Belt, One Road, and North-South. At the same time the facilitated visa obtaining mechanism is in place now for several Arab countries, which are located primarily nearby the Persian Gulf. All other countries are obliged to apply to the embassy for a visa. These factors promote rapprochement in all areas such as culture and economy, expanding trade and investment.

To date, we have been successful to establish bilateral contacts with almost all Arab countries. Of course, we already have very good relations with some of them, while with others our relations are at the stage of contacts. Also, on behalf of our Association we paid official visits to most of these countries. We visited Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and other countries. The key purpose of these visits was to establish ties with all these countries. During the official visit we also held a meeting at the Union of Chambers of Commerce under the League of Arab States headquartered in Beirut. With the help of this Union we reached all the other Chambers of Commerce in individual Arab countries.

CE: Could you please tell about the goals of the Association for the next few years?

Elshan Rahimov: If to watch closely the development of our domestic economy, we can highlight the ongoing profound economic reforms the leadership of our country is carrying out domestically to attract investments and bring new technologies to the country. Compared with European countries or near and far-abroad countries, the Arab countries are more inclined to invest in the Azerbaijani economy, because they have accumulated huge oil capital, which requires reinvestment in capital-intensive industries. At the same time I can mention the tourism sector, which today represents Azerbaijan as one of the key tourism destinations for citizens of the Arab countries. Given a short-haul flight which takes a maximum of 2 to 3 hours, they can easily come here and enjoy staying in our country. Therefore, our strongly prioritised area for now is the development of the tourism sector. This sector is the most urgent, rapidly developing and profitable for our country. Of course, other areas of the economy such as FMCG, restaurant business, entertainment services and others are developing simultaneously with the tourism sector. At the same time we can suggest further development of the real estate sector. Tourists from the Arab countries enjoy staying in Azerbaijan so much that they start thinking about buying property in order to be able to spend more time in the country. Trade relations are also developing. Azerbaijani products under the “Made in Azerbaijan” brand already find their niche on the shelves of the largest hypermarkets in the Arab countries. This is the case in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Now our interest lies in all-possible development of the bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and the Arab world. It stands to mention the field of industrial development. As you know, nowadays a lot of innovations are being put in place in Azerbaijan at the state level. Industrial parks are created, and a free economic zone in the Alat settlement as well. All this will undoubtedly draw attention of the Arab countries. Recently, due to the drop in oil prices the economies of the Arab world, mainly the Gulf countries, have slowed down almost twofold in the last five years, so these countries are trying to diversify both investment and geography. And they view Azerbaijan as one of the most attractive destinations precisely because of its favourable geographical location.

CE: What steps are taken to establish relations between the Arab and Azerbaijani private sector?

Elshan Rahimov: Many Azerbaijani companies apply to our Association for consulting services in order to establish business contacts with the Arab world countries. Goods and services offered by Azerbaijan are in big demand while the Arab world, in general, is quite a big consumer market. Why not use this opportunity and enter the markets of these countries with our products. Now we are more focused on organization of the first Azerbaijan-Arab Investment Business Forum fixed for 1-3 May 2018. Thus, it is early to speak about establishment of relations between the private sector of Azerbaijan and Arab countries. Nevertheless, a certain work is underway in terms of participation of Azerbaijani companies at the international exhibition facilities of the Arab countres.

As soon as we complete our work on successful conduction of the first forum, our next events will be associated with separate countries.

Nowadays, we are mainly trying to make our presence felt both among the Azerbaijani companies and companies of the Arab world. In future, as soon as we successfully hold the first forum, we will start working separately on different sectors. In a month after the forum is over we will start planning official visits of local business circles to separate Arab countries and establishing business contacts with similar structures operating in these countries. They usually operate within the framework of trade chambers. As you know, there is no such separate body operating in Azerbaijan and called a chamber of commerce of Azerbaijan. But we have similar structures as Azpromo, for instance. Thus, now we are going to reach all the concerned parties through these channels. Basically, our construction companies are willing to participate in tenders of the Arab states to fulfill big public orders. In principle, it seems quite real. We have already sent profiles of our several construction companies to certain Arab countries, including Bahrain, so that these companies can take part in tenders for construction of large facilities.

CE: Which problems do Arab businessmen face while doing business in Azerbaijan? What is needed to solve these problems?

Elshan Rahimov: Most business circles of Arab countries, which come to Azerbaijan, feel the lack of information and a complete picture of business doing in Azerbaijan. They don’t know how to register a company, know nothing about local legislative requirements, whether they can bring their families here, requirements for residence and getting a right for a permanent residence and many other details. There is also a number challenges facing companies which have already entered the Azerbaijani market, got registered and started operating.  Mainly, it is associated with the getting of the right for employment of foreign citizens. Taking into account that Arab businessmen, who come to Azerbaijan, also wish to bring their trusted managers or employees of their companies, they may face certain problems.

There were several occasions when the state migration service refused to provide them a license for employment. In general, it is a main problem which Arab businessmen can face in Azerbaijan. The most important thing is to bring all the details and rules of business doing in Azerbaijan to their attention. If they are aware of legislative requirements of the tax and labor code, then no serious problem should arise.

CE: Can your Association contribute to the provision of this information to the Arab business circles?

Elshan Rahimov: As an Association, we first of all assume an obligation to gather all this information into a one system – how to register a company, tax requirements, legislative restrictions, which sectors are of more interest, etc. For instance, at present, the agricultural sector is of big interest, promising and fully exempt from taxes. If investors invest into this sector and possess full information, then they will manage to gain big benefits and continue making investments into this area.

CE: Tell a little bit more about the forth coming 1st Azerbaijani-Arab Business Forum.

Elshan Rahimov: Separate forums attended by businessmen from the Arab Emirates, Persian Gulf, have already been held in Azerbaijan so far. But they were no specifically focused forums covering all the Arab countries. It is exactly what we want to hold on 1-3 May 2018, which is going to be hosted in Azerbaijan for the first time and involve all the Arab countries. We have carried out a substantially big informational work with our Arab partners, signed a number of agreements about cooperation with leading media agencies of separate Arab countries, which will spread information about Azerbaijan. We also signed certain exclusive agreements about provision of services to our Association to support Azerbaijani business to access these markets.

We expect about 300 delegates from Arab countries to visit the forum. Among them, there will be representatives of different sectors of economy, including banking, tourism and construction sectors.

CE:  Which companies and officials plan to attend it?

Elshan Rahimov: From the Azerbaijani side, we received an official letter sent by the Ministry of Economy on behalf of the First Deputy Minister Sahil Babayev who stressed the significance of conduction of the forum. He noted that the Ministry of Economy supports our initiative and is ready to help with the organization of the event and provide an informational support. Other Azerbaijani officials are also expected to attend the event. There is also a very big interest shown by the Arab countries, including representatives of the Royal families. There are very many large, well-known Arab holdings among the invited parties. Some of them have already confirmed their participation. The Islamic Development Bank is a strategic partner of the forum. A very big delegation is expected to come from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Lebanon, Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and other countries.  

CE:  How often do you plan to hold such events?

Elshan Rahimov: I think that in the following years we will adhere to the position of holding the similar and same-name forum. We want this forum to become international and hold it annually. We have designed two websites. One of them is an official webpage of our organization (www.aacc.az) while the other one is the website of the forum (www.aaforums.org). Now we are working on final adjustments and launching the websites so that the concerned parties can get registered online. The forum itself will last for 3 days. The first day will be dedicated to the panel sessions and b2b meetings. The second day will also last with b2b meetings. Projects running in Azerbaijan will be demonstrated to potential investors. We plan to hold the third day of the forum in informal surroundings by arranging tours and showing the sights of our city. Besides, maybe there will be a trip to Guba as we want to show both the tourism potential and the nature of our country. 

In future, we plan to hold events focused, on certain sectors such as construction, tourism, perhaps it can be healthcare, education and other sectors, which will be held till the end of the next year. This time next year, we will be organizing the second Azerbaijan-Arab business forum. As far as the exact date is concerned, the Arab world is using a lunar calendar and every year the Holy month of Ramazan starts 10-11 days earlier which is why we plan to choose a date in order to have the event ended before the month of Ramazan begins. Moreover, at this time of the year the people of the whole Arab world are fasting and preferring not to leave their countries.

In future, we plan to make our forum more worldwide and make it a platform for participants not only from the Arab countries but also from other world countries. Perhaps, the forum will become an event bearing regional significance.

CE:  Is the venue of the forum already known?

Elshan Rahimov: The Forum will be held at Pullmann hotel. We have chosen this hotel as it has a very comfortable room for hosting events, a stage for speakers, and can admit about 600 participants. Besides, the hotel has a big amount of rooms for a comfortable accommodation of guests. This year we got an opportunity to hold a forum there and we find this venue pretty perfect.

CE: With which other organizations do you cooperate? Tell us about the cooperation with the Caspian European Club…

Elshan Rahimov: Taking into account that we are a young organization at this stage, we are in need of good connections. At present we demand no funds from local business circles wishing to join our Association. We understand that no businessman will have a wish to pay any membership fees without seeing any use from being a member of the Association. Therefore, we did not demand any fees from companies in the first year. All of it will start developing after we hold our first forum where we show our potential and prospects. Now we are in need of the support from platforms which are already operating in Azerbaijan. For now, the Caspian European Club is one of the most well-known and active Clubs with which we are going to create a new joint venture which will be engaged in publishing of a journal called Caspian Energy Arabian. The first issue of the Caspian Energy Arabian journal will be published in May 2018. All issues will be published in the Arabic and English languages. The journal will be published 4 times a year and spread in 70 countries of the world (in the Arab, Caspian-Black Sea and Baltic countries).

Realizing the importance of the cooperation with the Caspian European Club, we also plan to sign a memorandum of mutual understanding in order to apply the information resources of the Club. The leading large holdings and companies of Azerbaijan are the members of the Caspian European Club and we are also trying to spread this information among these companies via the Caspian European Club. We also held negotiations with the Confederation of Entrepreneurs of Azerbaijan and Azpromo. I am sure that the cooperation with these organizations will be successful and promote attraction of much higher investments into Azerbaijan.

 

 

Thank you for the interview!

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