Caspian Energy Journal Caspian European Club
Thursday, 03 December 2015 18:20

The United States supports Azerbaijan’s goal of diversifying economy - Robert F. Cekuta

Caspian Energy CE:How would you evaluate today’s prospects for development of cooperation?

Robert F. Cekuta, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States to the Republic of Azerbaijan : The U.S and Azerbaijan have a long, and I think all would say, highly successful history of economic engagement and cooperation, dating back to the early 1990’s when the U.S. provided development assistance to support Azerbaijan’s swift transition to a market-based economy, the development of its energy sector, and the development of the skills everyone needs to meet the challenges of the global economy.    Over more than 20 years this cooperation has evolved into a constructive partnership, one that includes mutual investment and trade, and has great potential for continued growth.

The United States welcomes the opportunities I see for expanding our engagement with Azerbaijan across a range of economic activities to support Azerbaijan’s goal of diversifying its economy; opportunities that exist in transportation, the IT sector, agriculture, tourism, and alternative energy, for example, as well as in the areas of oil and gas.

CE: How do the American investors assess an investment climate in Azerbaijan?  

Robert Cekuta: Azerbaijan continues to attract significant attention from U.S. companies. The commercial relationship between our two countries, something that is one of the key elements to attracting investors, is strong.   During the past year, for example, Azerbaijani and American businesses have really advanced this commercial partnership.  The sale of Boeing planes to AZAL and Silk Way airlines, and General Electric’s sale of gas compressors for the TANAP pipeline stand out as two particularly significant examples of our continuing cooperation. 

Along these lines, I should note that we are working with the U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce to bring 10-15 American companies in November to Azerbaijan.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the Chamber’s 20 year anniversary.  We very much welcome the engagement of Azerbaijani entrepreneurs in this historic event and think it will be a resounding success for all those participating, as well as something that will help set the groundwork for future commercial and investment activities. 

For American firms doing business around the world, the top concerns are costs; a sound, transparent, and fair legal system – something we often refer to as “rule of law”; a capable workforce; and the infrastructure a firm needs to do its business.  Steps such as WTO membership for Azerbaijan and harmonizing customs clearance procedures in the Caspian region would be very positive steps forward in attracting U.S. investors and other business people.   American firms also value shared ownership as an opportunity to have a stake in a growing investment that benefits all parties.

CE:How attractive is the Caspian Sea shelf today for US companies?

Robert Cekuta: I think the opportunities in Azerbaijan are attractive to many U.S. companies, both to those that have long been involved in growing Azerbaijan’s oil and gas sector, and to those U.S. energy and service companies that have been involved in oil and gas plays elsewhere in the world.

U.S. drilling and other equipment companies are well suited to meet the needs for production of oil and gas in Azerbaijan’s evolving hydrocarbon sector.  I would also flag American engineering and other services companies as able to provide the top flight know-how and expertise essential to the efficient and safe production of oil and gas in today’s world.  All these companies would find Azerbaijan an interesting and dynamic market.

CE:What economic sectors other than the energy industry can expand the scope of cooperation in the future? What challenges do you see on this way?

Robert Cekuta: While we continue to work closely with the government, SOCAR, and others here on the ground in Azerbaijan’s energy sector, something I have discussed since my arrival in Baku in February is how the United States can support Azerbaijan’s goals of diversifying its economy.  This is all part of the long-standing effort by the United States to work with Azerbaijanis to boost Azerbaijan’s prosperity and stability.

For example, Azerbaijan has identified transport and tourism as key sectors ready for future development.  Azerbaijan has incredibly hospitable people, stunning and diverse natural scenery, and rich cultural traditions and history.  The country is begging to be explored, and with the expansion of flights connecting Azerbaijan to Europe, Asia, and the United States, now is the time to promote tourism between both our countries.

In the field of information technology, there are many opportunities for knowledge sharing, capital investment, and other avenues of commercial engagement.  For example, we should look for opportunities for Azerbaijani start-up companies to interact with firms in the U.S. 

In terms of challenges, Azerbaijan and the United States are not geographically close and Americans have told me it can take a while for them to complete the requirements for Azerbaijani visas.  I know we have been working to make the process for Azerbaijanis to get visas to the United States easier and quicker.  But Americans have told me simplifying visa procedures would bring more tourists into Azerbaijan and facilitate increased business travel, thereby promoting economic growth. 

As Azerbaijan looks to attract investment capital, it will be important to continue building on its efforts in areas such as anti-corruption reforms, like the establishment and expansion of the ASAN Centers.  Expanding such successful models to other areas would advance Azerbaijan’s efforts to promote healthy business environment based on transparent, stable, and rule-based systems that will attract – and keep – U.S. and other investors.

CE: How would you assess prospects to raise the trade turnover between the two countries?

Robert Cekuta: Exports from the Azerbaijan grew 60% in the past year, while diverse U.S. consumer markets would welcome Azerbaijani imports.  As I mentioned earlier, Azerbaijan’s agriculture is first class, and is one area for Azerbaijan to develop its export markets.

Also, as Azerbaijani experts have pointed out to me, the Silk Road was not just a route for transporting goods, but a network of centers for entrepreneurs and enterprises to create and add value.  Azerbaijan’s geographic position makes it a key piece of the international effort now underway to re-establish overland routes between China and central/western Europe.  U.S. companies have seen the potential of Azerbaijan’s transit and transport services, for in investing in Azerbaijan, and doing other business here.    Azerbaijan’s efforts to improve the business environment can increase those opportunities.  Again, the trade mission for U.S. companies in November was an important opportunity to highlight the opportunities and potential for doing business across diverse sectors.

                                                                                                                                                                       Thank you for the interview

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