LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE

Azerbaijan 2016 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to Heinz Fischer, President of Austria, on how the two countries can work together in developing the agriculture, tourism, and transport sectors.

Heinz Fischer
BIOGRAPHY
After completing compulsory military service in the Austrian Federal Army, Heinz Fischer received his doctorate in law in 1961. He completed his post-doctoral lecturing qualification in political science at the University of Innsbruck in 1978. He was appointed to the position of full professor of political science in 1994. From 1971-2004 he was a member of the Austria National Assembly and from 1990-2002 he was the Speaker of the Austrian National Assembly. In April 2004 he was elected Federal President of the Republic of Austria and in April 2010 he was re-elected to this position.

With an active Austria-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce in place in Baku, what is your assessment of the current level of economic relations between Austria and Azerbaijan?

Economic relations between Austria and Azerbaijan can be qualified as well established and on a solid base. Azerbaijan enjoys a significant trade surplus with Austria due to its exports of oil, which comprise over 90% of exports. This economic data illustrates the high dependency of Azerbaijan on one export commodity. This dependence has increased Azerbaijan's vulnerability in times of crises, as 50% of GNP and 97% of exports stem from the oil and gas sector. Austria appreciates that Azerbaijan, under the leadership of President Aliyev, is trying to introduce reforms and diversify its economy. This is a difficult and long-term process, especially as most countries in the region are facing similar problems. Bilateral trade has increased nearly tenfold in the last 10 years. In 1H2015, Austria was Azerbaijan's fifth most important import partner. In 2010, the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber opened an office in Baku, with the aim of contributing to the development and expansion of bilateral trade relations. Last year, two business missions with more than 30 Austrian companies from various industrial sectors were organized. In addition, the office of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber supported the activities of individual businesses and entrepreneurs.

More than 45 Austrian companies are currently operating in Azerbaijan. What role can Austrian companies play in assisting the development of Azerbaijan's technical and technological sectors?

President Aliyev has mentioned his eagerness to improve and diversify the Azerbaijani economy several times. Austria is ready to work together with Azerbaijan in this endeavor. Many Austrian companies are engaged in the planning, architecture, and construction business. As a supplier of high-quality machinery in the field of oil and gas, Austria has contributed to the technological development of Azerbaijan. This is also true for the pharmaceutical sector, which is an important Austrian export to Azerbaijan. Furthermore, there is ongoing cooperation in the field of education. The strengthening of university and academic cooperation in the technological field would therefore be beneficial.

Which areas offer the most potential for Austria and Azerbaijan to increase mutual cooperation efforts moving forward?

Azerbaijan and Austria in many respects share similar features. Our countries and population are of approximately the same size, we share similar climatic zones, especially mountain ranges and forests, and geopolitically both countries are placed between large and powerful neighbors on essential trade routes. As the focus of Azerbaijan is shifting to the diversification of the economy, Austria would like to be a substantial partner. The Austrian Tourism University of Krems closely cooperates with the University of Tourism and Management of Azerbaijan and Austria is working in close cooperation with the administration of the Old City of Baku on the restoration of several monuments. We were successful in restoring the Maiden Tower, and now we are working on the restoration of the Baylar mosque and a grave in Shirvanshah palace. Another important field with huge potential for cooperation is the agricultural sector, from production to the promotion of products. Another area of cooperation could be an exchange of expertise in the area of mountain farming, as substantial parts of both our territories are covered by mountains. In addition, the areas of machinery and plants (in particular in the oil and gas industry as well as in food processing) and the renewal of the energy infrastructure offer significant opportunities for Austrian companies. Last but not least, I would like to underline that Azerbaijan, as Austria, is a country on an important international trade link. We are following with great interest Azerbaijan's endeavor to position itself on the crossroads of the silk and spice route. I believe that Austrian know-how in the road and railway sectors could be beneficial for Azerbaijan.