Caspian Energy (CE): Your Excellency, could you please sum up the results of the 2016 year? Are you pleased with the current level of cooperation in the energy sector? What kind of projects will be initiated in 2017? What visits are expected?
Aurelia Bouchez, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the French Republic to the Republic of Azerbaijan: French companies are involved in many successful projects, which match Azerbaijan’s priorities such as the diversification of economy as well as the development of energy production and transportation.
Despite the economic difficulties faced by Azerbaijan in 2016, achievements have been continuously reached, with French companies being active in transport, tourism, agribusiness, environment, air and space... And French companies are keen on transferring and exchanging knowledge and technologies.
TOTAL is ready to invest more in Azerbaijan
In the field of energy sector, 2016 has been particularly fruitful for the bilateral cooperation.
TOTAL and SOCAR signed an agreement for operating Absheron field in December. Important investments are already planned in that gas field. I would like to underline that TOTAL is ready to invest more in Azerbaijan, is willing to develop its activities in the country, and is interested in the future tenders on Umid and Babek gas fields.
Other projects of SOCAR are actively followed by our companies, namely the GPC project. The company AXENS recently confirmed the signature of a technology licensing agreement with SOCAR for the production of high purity 1-Butene through ethylene dimerization.
When it comes to visits – well 2017 is still young. But I would like to note that already in January Minister of State Jean-Marie Le Guen came to Baku, as well as Minister of State Jean-Vincent Placé in February. These two ministerial visits were the occasion to highlight the further potential for our cooperation, for example in the field of electronic administration with ASAN as well as in the training of future engineers with the new French-Azerbaijani University; it was also the occasion to highlight the important contribution by the French company Suez to the tackling of some environmental issues in Azerbaijan.
CE: Azerbaijan is the third Caspian country where you represented the interests of the EU and currently represent the interests of France. Is it possible to say that the EU and France have the intersecting strategic interests in the Caspian Sea now? Do you think that the EU countries have a coordinated stance on the Caspian region today?
Aurelia Bouchez: France supports the EU policy of diversification of energy routes and supplies as an important element of European energy security. The Caspian Sea offers a big potential for closer links between East and West. Azerbaijan, located at the crossroads of East-West and North-South routes, plays a key role in this regard, in particular through the Southern Gas Corridor.
The Caspian Sea offers a big potential for closer links between East and West
TOTAL is present in Turkmenistan and Iran, which places the company in a good position for further development of resources in the Caspian Sea.
As you know, France is supporting the building of the South gas corridor in which Azerbaijan plays a major part. ENGIE will be the first buyer of gas from Shah Deniz 2. Our banking sector follows carefully this project.
The French company Spiecabag (Vinci) is taking part in the construction of the Transadriatic pipeline (TAP) for segments which total 400 km, in Greece and Albania.
CE: In December 2016, Azerbaijan and France signed the memorandum to set up a committee for interregional cooperation and decentralization. Could you please tell us more about future activities of this committee? What are your expectations from this committee? What impact will it have on the bilateral economic relations between Azerbaijan and France?
Aurelia Bouchez: Relations between France and Azerbaijan at the local level have been developing throughout the years and now about a dozen of agreements or charters between towns and regions from the two countries have been agreed. This was highlighted on the occasion of the signing of an administrative arrangement between the French ministry of Foreign affairs and the Azerbaijani ministry of Economy in December, aimed at supporting these local links.
The cooperation consists in exchanges of expertise and joint initiatives in various fields, from education and culture to wine production and agricultural projects. This new dimension to our bilateral relations provides opportunities for more people to people contacts and paves the way to new bilateral economic links, since French companies can procure well adapted equipment to local projects and Azerbaijani products could find promising markets in France’s province.
CE: How would you evaluate the process of working on the strategic agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan? Will it give a new impetus to the development of Azerbaijan's cooperation with the EU and France in particular?
Aurelia Bouchez: On trade, EU is Azerbaijan’s main trading partner and one of its most important investors. Expanding the EU-Azerbaijan cooperation will help diversify and reform the country’s economy and contribute to sustainable growth. It should boost the cooperation with French and other European countries’ companies, by encouraging a competitive business environment and supporting Azerbaijani ongoing and planned reforms which we welcome.
The EU technical assistance will allow for close work on trade resulting from the reforms undertaken in customs and assistance for the free trade zone of the Alat Port. Let me underline that the agreement will go beyond trade and will encourage and support democratic development of the country, which should pave the way for an open society which, in turn, will ensure long term stability and prosperity.
CE: Which sectors of the Azerbaijan economy, in your opinion, require closer attention of foreign investors and the government of the country?
Aurelia Bouchez: French companies are willing to take part in new projects Azerbaijan plans to undertake to diversify its economy. More than 40 CEO and companies’ representatives took part in the delegation led by the MEDEF last May. They were received by H.E. President Aliyev with whom they had an excellent exchange. In December, the 8th session of the Joint Economic Commission co-chaired by the Minister of Finance Mr Samir Sharifov and Minister of State Mr Matthias Fekl, was held in Paris. Mr Sharifov met there with the French Minister of Economy and Finance Mr Michel Sapin, as well as with French companies at the MEDEF’s.
Investments in transportationcould be usefully considered
Both sides noted the importance of the energy sector which attracts huge investments by French companies. They also recognize the huge potential in other economic fields which will contribute to the diversification of the Azerbaijani economy. In this regard, it seems to me that other investments could be usefully considered for instance in transportation, with the development of railways corridors and of the port of Alat, and for tourism, as Azerbaijan attracts an increasing number of foreign visitors.
Thank you for the interview