Caspian Energy (CE): Your Excellency, you are the newly appointed Ambassador to Azerbaijan. Could you please tell about your impressions about our country? What did you discuss during your meeting with the President of Azerbaijan, His Excellency Mr. Ilham Aliyev? What did the President tell you?
Michael Kindsgrab, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Republic of Azerbaijan: I had a very fruitful meeting with President Aliyev when I handed over my credentials in August. The President emphasized the potential of German companies for the development of our bilateral relations, especially with regard to diversifying the Azerbaijani economy. .
German Foreign Chambers of Commerce exist in the CIS countries only in Moscow and Baku
CE: Could you please tell about the key objectives of your mission?
Michael Kindsgrab: In a nutshell, my job and the job of my colleagues working with me at the Embassy is to work for the development of bilateral relations between Germany and Azerbaijan. We support people-to-people contacts, we support economic cooperation in trade and investment, and we support cultural relations. Many bright young Azerbaijani people are learning German or are interested in doing so. Or they are studying at German universities. We also have the German Foreign Chamber of Commerce here in Azerbaijan, which is the only full-fledged German Foreign Chamber of Commerce in a CIS country outside of Russia.
CE: What possibilities do you see in the ongoing economic reforms in Azerbaijan for German investors? What kind of problems do companies face when doing business in Azerbaijan?
Michael Kindsgrab: Azerbaijan is following a strategy of economic diversification away from the oil and gas sector. It is a very interesting field especially for small and medium-sized companies which Germany is famous for, and which are often world leaders in their segment of the global market. The more the Azerbaijani economy diversifies, the better the potential for German companies to play their role. And this is why I am so happy about the work of the German-Azerbaijani Chamber of Commerce, which can lend a hand especially to small and medium-sized enterprises in discovering the Azerbaijani market. German companies are interested to see what the Road Map on economic reform will contain.
CE: Does Germany plan to develop any large projects in the regions of Azerbaijan? Do you see prospects for development of industrial areas in Azerbaijan?
Michael Kindsgrab: Baku is a wonderful city, but of course Azerbaijan is more than just Baku. I am trying to get out of the city at least once a month to visit regions of Azerbaijan. And one important aspect of each of my visits is to look at the local economy. With the help of the German Chamber of Commerce we can try to identify investment opportunities and inform German companies about them. Concrete decisions as to whether and where to invest or cooperate, have to be taken by individual businesses, of course.
CE: What prospects for the tourism sector do you see in Azerbaijan?
Michael Kindsgrab: I am personally convinced that its beautiful capital, its friendly people, the cultural heritage and the spectacular landscapes make Azerbaijan a very attractive destination for tourism. And I would hope for the number of German tourists to increase in the years to come. In this regard I would like to mention two aspects. After the devaluation of the manat Azerbaijan has become much more affordable to foreign visitors. The second aspect concerns the visa regime. We hope that obtaining visa to Azerbaijan will become easier for tourists from the European Union in the near future. I understand that the Azerbaijani authorities are taking steps in that direction.
Germany strongly supports diversification of energy exports to the EU
CE: What does the Southern Gas Corridor project mean for Germany?
Michael Kindsgrab: Germany strongly supports diversification of energy routes into the European Union. This is why we have a high interest in seeing the Southern Gas Corridor realize its full potential.
CE: Does Germany plan to join the Southern Gas Corridor as an importer?
Michael Kindsgrab: We have a strong interest in diversified routes for importing gas and other energy resources to the European Union, because diversification will improve our energy security and our consumers and companies are going to benefit from it. Contracts for purchasing energy are business-to-business decisions. Germany imports gas from quite a variety of sources.
CE: Mr. Ambassador, recently the Ambassadors from the seven countries have asked US congressional leaders to support legislation that would expedite LNG exports to their countries. Among others, Germany has not joined the list. Does not this mean the absence of a single energy stance inside the EU?
Michael Kindsgrab: Germany supports the energy policy of the European Union and plays an active role in shaping and developing it. We are a strong supporter of diversified energy transportation routes into the European Union.
CE: Will Germany support creating a gas distribution hub on the Turkish-Greek border?
Michael Kindsgrab: The principles of German energy policy are clear. We support the diversification of transportation routes into the EU. Therefore we follow with interest all discussions that take place between stakeholders aimed at a diversified energy transit.
CE: What benefits and drawbacks does Germany see in new formats of regional cooperation Iran-Azerbaijan-Russia and Russia-Turkey-Azerbaijan?
Michael Kindsgrab: We follow these developments with great interest and support the development of international and interregional trade. For example, here in Azerbaijan I met German companies that have been instructed by their headquarters to explore the Iranian market from Azerbaijan. This shows that cooperation between Azerbaijan and Iran can open up new opportunities for German businesses as well.
CE: Do German companies intend to invest in the North-South and Silk Road transport corridors? How strong is the interest of Germany in development of these global routes?
Michael Kindsgrab: We attach great importance to the development of transportation corridors, as such corridors can provide alternative routes for the cost-effective transportation of time-critical cargo. This would be beneficial for an export-oriented economy like Germany`s, but also for importers who could profit from improved reliability and lower freight costs.
Germany will continue to work for closer relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union
CE: Mr. Ambassador, will Brexit change the position of Germany in the world markets and Germany’s attitude towards other countries? Will it affect the foreign policy of Germany?
Michael Kindsgrab: Germany will continue to be an active member state of the European Union and try to play its role in shaping a foreign trade policy of the European Union and in promoting the values of the European Union.
CE: What impact will the UK’s leaving the EU have on the bilateral cooperation between Azerbaijan and the EU, and Germany in particular?
Michael Kindsgrab: Germany will definitely continue to work for strong relations between the European Union and Azerbaijan. We very much welcome that the Council of the European Union has just adopted a mandate for a new agreement with Azerbaijan. Germany strongly supported the timely adoption of this mandate and we also support result-oriented and timely negotiations on concluding the agreement.
Thank you for the interview