Tuesday, 29 October 2019 13:00

The Convention on the Caspian Sea opens wide opportunities to develop transportation networks

Caspian Energy (CE): Your Excellency, Georgia and Azerbaijan have been long strategic partners in the energy field.  How would you assess the contribution of the Azerbaijan-Georgia partnership into the global energy security? What has a positive or negative impact on the cooperation of the two countries in this field?   
Salome Zourabichvili, President of Georgia: Georgia and Azerbaijan are located between the Caspian and Black Seas and represent a natural bridge and the shortest route linking the EU with Central Asia and the wider East Asia. Furthermore, Georgia and Azerbaijan have been strategic partners not only thanks to their geography and strategic location, but also due to the continuous struggle for their statehood and territorial integrity that has forged their identity. The Georgian and Azerbaijani people are Caucasian nations with common values and close mentalities. 
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia and Azerbaijan have successfully upheld an opportunity to develop upstream and midstream oil (Baku-Supsa and BTC) and gas (SCP) pipelines that have linked Azerbaijani oil and gas resources to world markets and thus contribute to global energy security. This is a real success story.
A close Georgia–Azerbaijan interaction in the energy field is a very good example of successful upstream-downstream country cooperation. SOCAR, the Azerbaijani state oil company, is a major supplier of oil products and the main supplier of natural gas to Georgia. Apart from that, SOCAR is one of the largest taxpayers in Georgia and investors in the energy sector. We appreciate very much SOCAR’s sponsorship of various projects.

CE: In the course of your official visit to Baku you stated that the major goal facing Georgia and Azerbaijan now is to plan even larger-scale projects. Which projects did you mean?
Salome Zourabichvili: Georgia, with its ports on the Black Sea, and Azerbaijan, with its ports on the Caspian Sea, offers a natural bridge for the movement of goods and services between the EU, Central Asia, and the wider East Asia.
Georgia has signed DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement) with the EU and a free trade agreement with China. I think this offers an excellent opportunity to develop large-scale cross-Caspian and cross-Black Sea transportation networks between ports on the Caspian and Black Seas. These new networks will complement existing transportation links through the Turkish straits and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway.

CE: During the electoral campaign you stated that the forth-coming 6 years “will be very important for Georgia which heads toward the integration with Europe, the European Union and NATO”. Which steps are you going to take?
Salome Zourabichvili: Georgia will continue its successful progression toward integrating both organizations. Georgia’s successful path has been recognized and it has allowed us to become an appreciated partner to the EU and a partner for NATO. The road ahead is open and will depend on the continuation of our efforts and us seizing all opportunities.

CE: You have repeatedly stated that the tourism sector in the region “should be fully open for tourists”.  Which measures, you think, can be taken in this direction?
Salome Zourabichvili: I regret that despite the Georgia-Azerbaijan strategic partnership, the delimitation of our borders has not been finalized yet. The area where border delimitation is still pending is sometimes inaccessible for visitors and tourists. I think we have to continue our work and finalize this delimitation while, in the meantime, open the areas in question for touristic activities.
CE: According to BBC, if Brexit happens, the UK citizens can lose over 2% of their annual income while the country can face a 20% decline of GDP. Considering the active trade relations with the EU, which versions of impact on the regional and Georgian economy does Georgia consider?   Is Brexit beneficial for Georgia in the long term?
Salome Zourabichvili: I regret that a major part of the British people voted for to exit. The UK is one of the largest economies in the EU and a very important partner. Moreover, the UK has the longest presence and work experience in the Caspian region, as British Petroleum -a British oil giant- is the main investor and operator of upstream oil and gas in Azerbaijan and midstream in Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. In 2018, the UK was the second largest investor in Georgia after Azerbaijan. BP is a major partner to international oil and gas transportation consortiums crossing Georgia – BTC, SCP, and the Western Route Pipeline. 
Coming back to your question, obviously, Brexit is not good if it weakens the EU economically, but this is the choice of the British people. On the other hand, I doubt Brexit may have adverse implications on the United Kingdom’s presence and BP operations in Georgia and the wider Caspian and Black Sea regions. The associated membership with the EU will not be limited by Brexit and Georgia will continue its rapprochement with all EU countries. New opportunities, new formats might also become available as they will be developed for the sake of Brexit, and that Georgia might be able to join.

CE: Given the settlement of the Caspian Sea status, what progress do you expect in the economic cooperation of the Caspian basin states?
Salome Zourabichvili: The Convention on the Caspian Sea opens wide opportunities to develop cross-Caspian transportation networks and build oil and gas pipelines (in full compliance with environmental standards as required by the Convention) and marine transportation networks. We welcome the signing of the Convention and hope it will come into force in the near future.
 
CE: Which economic projects can be implemented within the framework of the GUAM economic bloc?
Salome Zourabichvili: GUAM is an organization joining the Caspian (Azerbaijan) and Black Sea regions (Georgia, Ukraine) and Moldova. Apart from Azerbaijan, they all are partners in the Eastern Partnership Program, full members of the Energy Community, associated members of the EU, and enjoy full support from the European Union. GUAM could also serve as a backbone for transportation projects and contribute to their development.

CE: Caspian Energy international journal will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in May. What would you wish to the journal and its readership?
Salome Zourabichvili: Caspian Energy has been an important resource to follow developments in the Caspian and Black Sea regions for twenty years. It is ranked in the top five flagship publications focussing on the region… I take this opportunity to congratulate Caspian Energy for its 20th Anniversary and wish your remarkable team success in the future.

Thank you for the interview

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