EXCELLENT & FRIENDLY

Azerbaijan 2016 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to Bakir Izetbegovic, President of Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the warm culture of hospitality between the two nations and opportunities abound for curious Azerbaijanis.

Bakir Izetbegovic
BIOGRAPHY
Bakir Izetbegovic was born in 1956 in Sarajevo, where he graduated from the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Sarajevo. He worked as a consultant in Sarajevo and, from 1991 to 2003, he served as Director of the Institute for the Development of the Sarajevo Canton. He was a member of Parliament for the Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2000 to 2002. During the period of 1992 to 2003, he was a member of the Cantonal Board of SDA Sarajevo, and he was the Chairman of the SDA Caucus in the Assembly of the Sarajevo Canton from 2000 to 2002. He was the Vice president of the SDA from 2003 until 2009. From 2006 to 2010, he was the Chairman of the SDA Caucus in the House of Representatives. He was the Chairman of the BiH delegation at the Council of Europe from 2006 to 2010. In the general elections held on October 3, 2010, he was elected as a member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the ranks of the Bosniak people.

What are the current pillars that characterize the economic relations between the two countries?

Bilateral relations between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Azerbaijan are excellent and friendly. Over the past six years, our cooperation has expanded in many fields, especially in economic relations. I cherish the memory of the friendship and warm hospitality extended to me during my official visit to Azerbaijan in October 2012 and I look forward to hosting President Aliyev in an official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a direct result of our discussion, in 2014 Azerbaijan invested €40 million in the construction of a plant for the processing of fruits and vegetables in the city of Doboj in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which will be opened this year and provide direct employment for 300 workers and engage around 1,000 subcontractors. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Azerbaijan have concluded many important bilateral agreements with the aim of further strengthening and developing our relations. I would like to emphasize the agreement for the avoidance of double taxation, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina's decision to lift visa requirements for Azerbaijani citizens. Negotiations on the agreement on trade and economic cooperation between Azerbaijan and Bosnia and Herzegovina are under way, and I am confident that this mutually beneficial agreement will be concluded soon, paving the path for further expansion of our economic relations. The recently concluded bilateral agreement on cooperation in the field of education provides a good framework for exchanges between educational institutions in our countries and, combined with our visa-free regime for Azerbaijani citizens, presents opportunities to Azerbaijani students to study at public and private universities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has lifted its visa requirements for Azerbaijani travelers. How would you assess the current level of tourism between the two countries?

The current level of tourism between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Azerbaijan is low, but has great potential for growth, especially considering the friendly relations between our countries and the visa-free regime for Azerbaijani citizens. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Azerbaijan are very attractive tourist destinations. Bosnia and Herzegovina has recently been ranked as the world's sixth-fastest growing tourist destination, with a 28% increase in the number of visitors each year according to the United Nations World Travel Organization. Our capital city, Sarajevo, had over a million recorded overnight stays last year. We have to do more to promote our mutual tourist offers to our citizens. Tourism is not only about the travel industry, holiday, or leisure, but also about knowing each other better and about meeting each other more often. It is about sharing our values. Bosnia and Herzegovina offers not only pristine nature and breathtaking views, but also many valuable lessons in history and culture.

In which areas of trade between the two countries do you identify as having the most potential for future growth?

Bosnia and Herzegovina is centrally located and our proximity and good connectivity via road, rail, air, and sea gives us direct access to the EU market. Bosnia and Herzegovina also offers distinctive investment and business opportunities across a variety of sectors, especially in transport infrastructure, energy, agriculture, wood processing, and tourism. Our government has an ambitious plan for transport infrastructure development across the country, including hundreds of kilometers of motorways, railroads, bridges, tunnels, and river ports, all of which present an excellent opportunity for construction companies from Azerbaijan. We have a long tradition in mining, metal processing, forestry, and automotive industries. Our labor force is highly skilled with competitive wage levels. Our administration has been creating a more favorable climate for FDI by conducting an accelerated economic reform process over the past years. Foreign investors in Bosnia and Herzegovina now have the same rights as the residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are open and ready for business, and I cordially invite Azerbaijani companies to take advantage of the lucrative opportunities our country offers.