TBY talks to Murat S. Bakır, President of TÜSİAB, on the Azerbaijan-Turkey trade relationship.
TBY How has the special bond between Azerbaijan and Turkey helped to build a healthy business environment?
MURAT S. BAKIR Turkey and Azerbaijan share important emotional ties based on religion, language, history, and race. They use the same language, they share a border, and both of them are on the historic Silk Road. This has helped them establish an interactive economic relationship. Additionally, both countries’ leaders have historically encouraged Turkish businessmen to come to Azerbaijan. After Azerbaijan became independent, the first country to recognize its sovereignty was Turkey, and the first foreign capital that came into the country was from Turkey. In the independence wars of both countries, mutual support was assured. This support came to fruition in the Çanakkale and Karabakh wars.
How has TÜSİAB grown since it was established in 1994, and how have the interests of its members changed over the time?
The organization was established in 1994, but Turkish businessmen first came to Azerbaijan in 1989. At the beginning, our trade volume was around $100 million, now it stands at $2.5 billion. The development of Turkish business in Azerbaijan has developed in parallel with Azerbaijan’s economy. Azerbaijan’s economy has shown stable growth and improves with each passing year. Turkish businessmen have analyzed the market well, and they have been involved in the upward trend seen in the country over recent years. I should mention that the first priority of Turkish businessmen in Azerbaijan is not to earn money. We are brothers and we have serious historical ties. Our first priority is to strengthen this relationship and play a role in both countries’ development. For example, we had some issues during the economic crisis, but we didn’t leave the country. We shut down some of our offices in other countries, but shutting up shop in Azerbaijan was never an option. Historically, Turkish businessmen have re-invested in Azerbaijan whatever they earned there. These days it is a bit different. As President Ilham Aliyev and Turkish officials have said, Turkish and Azerbaijani businessman should do business together in other countries. There are examples of this now in Africa, the Baltic, and the Middle East.
How do you characterize the business environment for foreign investors?
Azerbaijan’s economy is developing every day. The government has seen the need for economic diversification and President Ilham Aliyev mentions this at every opportunity. Azerbaijan is open to every investor and the conditions are equal. Investors should investigate the market before coming to Azerbaijan. For example, agriculture is a sector that has a lot to offer and this area needs significant investment. Once upon a time, cotton and wine were manufactured in Azerbaijan. Plus, Azerbaijan has diverse seasons so it can produce many different kind of products. In my opinion, everybody should come to Azerbaijan, they should stay here and experience the country and then they will understand the opportunities. Sometimes people think we might be a bit blind because we are insiders and we are biased. Then we invite them to come here, and they change their minds. I should mention that investors should come with a considerable amount of capital, experience, and vital know-how. In addition, we would like to attract Turkish investors’ attention to the Azerbaijani agriculture sector.
To what extent is TÜSİAB involved in lobbying actions?
TÜSİAB is 16 years old and has considerable experience. It is a member of the business council under the president’s office. Historically, we have advised the Ministry of Tax, Ministry of Customs, and Ministry of Economic Development when they were drawing up regulations. Now we are directing our attention to the social rights of Turkish businessmen and their families in both countries. We have a relationship with the governments in both Turkey and Azerbaijan and exchange ideas on a series of issues.
To what extent is investment being made in Turkey with Azerbaijani capital?
Azerbaijan has made a total investment of $3 billion in Turkey over the years, and this will undoubtedly increase.
What is your outlook over the medium term for Azerbaijan’s economy?
We would like to see investment in the non-oil sector, in industry, and in manufacturing. We want to see a more industrialized Azerbaijan. If Azerbaijan can manufacture products for export it will vastly increase its wealth.
What opportunities are there in the finance sector?
At this moment it doesn’t seem like there are many opportunities. The authorities are trying to work on the infrastructure of the finance sector now, and in three to four years we believe there will be investors in the finance sector as well. Finance investors are different from others because they look for more security. Once the market is ready, we believe Azerbaijan will receive investors in this sector as well.
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