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Wednesday, 29 November 2017 10:45

It is important to help our business communities discover the potential and opportunities present in our bilateral cooperation - Dan Iancu Featured

Romania strongly supports the development of Azerbaijan’s cooperation with the European Union

 

I am planning to discover the whole diversity of this beautiful country

 

Caspian Energy (CE): Your Excellency, you have arrived in Azerbaijan not so long ago. What are the priorities of your mission? Do you see any potential left untapped in terms of relations?

Dan Iancu, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Romania to the Republic of Azerbaijan: Yes, I am quite new in Azerbaijan but I would say I am no longer a newcomer – I have just completed my first year of my mission here in Baku. Since the very start my priority has been to help strengthen the concrete cooperation between Romania and Azerbaijan, in all fields which might be relevant or of interest for our two countries. As you know, we have an excellent political relationship, based on the Strategic Partnership established in 2009 but also on a long tradition of friendship and mutual trust. This is actually the backbone on which we should build, together, more “muscle” – meaning more business links, more educational and cultural exchanges, more people-to-people contacts. So the answer to your final question is a resounding yes: there is a lot of potential waiting to be tapped and a wide scope for further expanding our cooperation.

I would like to note that I count myself lucky to be appointed in Azerbaijan which is a Strategic Partner of Romania, with which Romania has a solid political dialogue, with which we have already longstanding bonds of friendship and trust. My first priority is to expand this impressive legacy we already have and extend cooperation in all areas – economy, education, people to people contacts. This is the key focus of our mission and I’m glad to see that things are already moving in the right direction. 

CE: Have you already visited the regions of Azerbaijan?

Dan Iancu: I have been to several regions and plan to visit them one at a time.  Of course Baku is the city where I live most of the time, a true metropolis which made a very deep impression on me and also on the friends who visited us so far. I have recently been to Nakhchivan and also to several other cities like Lankaran, Sheki and Guba. There is still a lot left to discover and I am planning to discover the whole diversity of this beautiful country.

 

I was impressed by the efforts made by the authorities of Nakhchivan to develop and diversify the local economy

 

CE: Have you visited the industrial zones located there?

Dan Iancu: Yes, I mentioned Nakhchivan where I witnessed the industry potential of the Autonomous Republic. I visited the automobile plant, a furniture factory and also an exhibition of products made in Nakhchivan. So I could see both agricultural and industrial products manufactured locally. I was impressed by the diversity, the good quality of these products and also by the efforts made by the authorities of Nakhchivan to develop the local economy and diversify the range of regional products. I am sure that this process of continuous growth of the assortment of industrial products is running also in other regions of Azerbaijan.

CE: Which concrete opportunities have you seen there for the Romanian companies or which problems stand on the way to cooperation?

Dan Iancu: First of all I would like to point out to the great economic and trade potential of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is the biggest market in South Caucasus with a growing, young population with expanding needs and requirements. Some of these could be met by Romanian products and services. I think that we should start from the thorough study of the potential and possibilities, so that we find good, reliable partners on both sides that could exploit these market opportunities and tackle jointly whichever problems might arise.. 

CE: Mr. Ambassador, the Eastern Partnership Summit was held the other day. What results does Romania expect from this format of cooperation?

Dan Iancu: This is a very important event. As you know, the summit takes place every 2 years. A huge amount of work, carried out by all partner states, as well as European member states, stands behind this event. First of all, the heads of state and government attending the summit have summed up the results achieved since the previous Summit in Riga. At the same time, prospects for further developing the cooperation between the Union and the Eastern Partners have been assessed and, as you know, a number of priorities and deliverables have been already identified. I think the summit opens up great opportunities for the cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan. As you know, negotiations over the new Agreement are underway now and we are following them very closely. Good progress has been recorded so far and I hope both teams of negotiators will find the best ways forward so that the final text would be as ambitious, comprehensive and forward-looking as possible. The future agreement would move the EU-Azerbaijan cooperation to a higher, more mature level, providing increased opportunities for exchanges for the Union as a whole and for each of the EU’s Member States, Romania included. Just to give some examples, the upgrading of the trade-related provisions in the new agreement might send a stronger signal to the business community about the potential and predictability of Azerbaijan’s market. This is particularly important, at a time when Azerbaijan is fully engaged on the path of economic reform and diversification. Also, new avenues might open for closer institutional exchanges, in support of Azerbaijan’s modernization drive. All these are very welcome developments for what I mentioned before – our efforts to diversify and deepen the cooperation between Romania and Azerbaijan

 

Economies of Romania and Azerbaijan are complementary

 

CE: You have said that Romania is interested in trade expansion. In which specific areas is Romania deeply interested?

Dan Iancu: I think there is a lot of potential in the field of trade, economy and investments. I based my assumptions on several facts. Economies of Romania and Azerbaijan are complementary. This is very promising for business. Besides, Azerbaijan is now working actively on the diversification of the national economy and this opens up new prospects for trade and investments with Romanian partners. The same thing can be said about the structure of our economy. To give one example - Romania and Azerbaijan both have a long tradition in the extraction and processing of oil and gas. I know that investments are made to develop refining and petrochemicals in Azerbaijan. We have quite an integrated industry in terms of equipment designed for production, processing and petrochemical sector. So these are important factors which help us look with confidence at a positive trend of our economic cooperation.

 

We have a lot to offer each other

 

CE: I know that the two-way trade last year amounted to $170 million. Is it a small figure, comparing to the potential?

Dan Iancu: We can see it in two ways, you know the saying about the glass being half-full or half-empty. I prefer to look at it as a starting point towards continuous, sustainable development in the future. Azerbaijan is our biggest partner in the region in the field of trade and economy. Of course I think we can achieve even better results. And this is our job, as an Embassy, to bring together businesspeople from Romania and Azerbaijan in order to promote trade opportunities here in Azerbaijan and to make the business community in our countries realize that we have a lot to offer each other. So, I see this as a good starting point. 

 

CE: How interested are Romanian companies in the Azerbaijani market? Which fields could, in your opinion, be the most promising for expanding the trade and economic links between Romania and Azerbaijan?

Dan Iancu: I think that the Romanian and Azerbaijani companies are increasingly knowledgeable about the opportunities on the other market, but here also there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. Azerbaijan has a well-established reputation among Romanian business community as an important player in the energy field. This owes much to the long tradition of oil and gas production in the country, which bears a lot of similarities with Romania’s. Also, the tremendous involvement of Azerbaijan in the development of the Southern Gas Corridor is well-known in Romania. On the other hand, some traditional Romanian exports such as furniture, footwear or processed foods, are still fondly remembered over decades by the Azerbaijani consumers. What is important now is to help our business communities realize that both Romania’s and Azerbaijan’s economies have grown a lot more complex and this new reality provides us all with new opportunities. Romania has a strong, diverse industrial base, with a wide range of specialized products or services that are competitive in the world market and might provide good answers to some of Azerbaijan’s needs, as its economy moves also towards diversification. At the same time, Azerbaijan’s non-oil exports are expanding rapidly and are expected to do so in the longer run; this is a good reason for looking for new markets, such as Romania, for these products. One encouraging sign that we have witnessed over the past year is an increased interest of the Romanian companies to find partners and business opportunities in Azerbaijan.

 

Romania can be a channel for the Caspian gas to reach Central Europe 

 

CE: What policy does Romania follow in the field of energy security?

Dan Iancu: Like Azerbaijan, Romania has a long tradition in the industrial exploitation of oil and gas, stretching back to the mid-19th century, in the case of oil. We have been since the very start of this industry connected to the global energy market and continental or regional energy flows. Later on, as Europe became more dependent on energy imports, we have been active in shaping the debate on strengthening Europe’s energy market and EU’s energy security. We think these goals go hand in hand with diversification of both supply sources and transport routes. The Caspian region and particularly the Southern Gas Corridor provide the right answers in this respect – this is something my country has repeatedly underlined in all the discussions on Europe’s energy policy.

Domestically, we are actively pursuing the development of new oil and gas reserves, with recent discoveries offshore, in the Black Sea, looking particularly promising. At the same time, we are putting a lot of efforts into completing interconnectivity projects with all neighboring countries, a critical step towards a stronger and resilient European energy market.

 

CE: Could you please specify which projects are planned in this field?

Dan Iancu: I would make a mention here just to two gas projects, both having the potential to channel additional volumes of Caspian gas on the European market. First, the Bulgaria-Romania-Hungary-Austria gas interconnector, which is already under construction and would ensure upon completion the strengthening of the energy security not only for Romania, but also for South-Eastern and Central Europe. Then, we have developed together with our partners the AGRI LNG initiative (Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania interconnector). This is an unique project in the Black Sea region based on three key principles: energy security, diversification and regional cooperation.

I am also very pleased to mention that SOCAR is already a well-established presence in Romania, operating an extensive and expanding distribution network on our market.

CE: What could you say about prospects of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Romania in the field of transport?

Dan Iancu: Azerbaijan sits astride both East-West and North-South transportation corridors and has made important contributions to developing both of them. I mention here just the most prominent initiatives in this respect, such as the recent inauguration of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, the expansion of the International Port of Baku or the support for the extension of the North-South rail corridor. Of course, if you look at the map, the East-West corridor remains the most relevant for Romania: my country has a Black Sea coast with the busiest harbor in this area (Constanta) and good connections further inland, including through the River Danube, towards Central Europe. We are working closely with our partners in Azerbaijan, as well as those in Georgia and Turkmenistan, to develop the Caspian Sea-Black Sea Freight Corridor – which is basically the extension across the Black Sea of the East-West corridor running currently through Azerbaijan and Georgia. The Port of Constanta and the Baku International Sea Trade Port have recently signed a MoU that would help them better structure and develop their cooperation.

 

We should use our past experience to bring more producers here

 

CE: What could you tell in this regard about the cooperation in the field of tourism? What potential do you see?

Dan Iancu: In both countries the tourism sector has big potential. Moreover, Azerbaijan has identified tourism as one of the key, strategic sectors to be developed. As someone living in Azerbaijan for more than a year already, I witness every day the tremendous potential of the tourism sector. From the beauty of Baku, blending old and new, with amazing architecture like Flame Towers, Heydar Aliyev Centre, and the historical Maiden Tower and the Old Town, to ski resorts in the majestic Caucasus and the shores of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan has a lot to offer to any tourist. On the other hand, like Azerbaijan, Romania has a diverse nature, a long history and rich, still vivid traditions. I think we need to better promote this cultural and natural wealth, both in Azerbaijan and in Romania.

CE: What do you think about projects in the field of agriculture, which is a traditional industry in both countries?  

Dan Iancu: Romania and Azerbaijan are the important agricultural producers, so there might be some overlapping as regards the list of our agricultural products. But there are a lot of areas where we could exchange experience. On one hand, living in Azerbaijan, I have discovered the high quality of freshly harvested as well as of local processed food products.This is a thing that is not sufficiently known in Romania, and I am confident the relevant Azerbaijani authorities are working to change that. On the other hand, Romania has a long tradition of food processing, modern, up-to-date facilities and products meeting the highest European quality and safety standards. Older generations in Azerbaijan still remember some Romanian food products exported by my country in the ‘70s or ‘80s. Nowadays we should take advantage of this “brand awareness” to encourage more Romanian producers to be present here on the Azerbaijani market.

 

Thank you for the interview 

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