US ambassador: Azerbaijan needs to continue an aggressive effort to diversify its economy
The American Chamber of Commerce in Azerbaijan (AmCham Azerbaijan) organized its monthly members’ luncheon, dedicated to the completion of the diplomatic service of the US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Robert Cekuta.
Opening the event, Nuran Kerimov, President of AmCham Azerbaijan and Natavan Mammadova, Executive Director of AmCham Azerbaijan expressed their gratitude to Robert Cekuta for special services in Azerbaijan.
Robert Cekuta said Azerbaijan holds strategic position in the region: ‘The opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad and the development of the new port at Alat south of Baku, for example, are both key components of the New Silk Road and factors that have the potential to improve and expand trade between the western and the eastern and southern portions of Eurasia. Azerbaijan is strategically important in other ways as well. Long a reliable international partner on the ground in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan has an important role to play in showing the world an example of a secular Muslim state, showing an example of inter-ethnic and inter-religious tolerance in days when extremism and terrorism are global problems and threats to us all’.
He underlined importance of the 100th anniversary of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic: ‘We also note and celebrate another aspect of Azerbaijan’s rich history this year with the centennial of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, and what it set out as the first modern Muslim democracy and the first Muslim country to recognize women’s right to vote and participate in the legislature and government. However, we also need to note the persistent conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and the need to help realize a peaceful settlement based upon internationally agreed-upon principles. Azerbaijanis will often characterize themselves a “small country. Yet with a population of ten million, it is twice the size of Norway or about the size of Austria or Sweden. My point here is that we should not see the size of Azerbaijan’s economy as a limiting factor, but note what it signifies in the way of potential’.
According to him, Azerbaijan’s oil and gas deposits have been a source of wealth and can continue to be so: ‘Certainly Azerbaijan needs to continue an aggressive effort to diversify its economy – again, look at Baku’s sister city Houston which diversified its economy after oil prices crashed in the eighties and which, as a result, weathered the drop in oil prices that began in June, 2014. But I am convinced that like the Permian Basin, Pennsylvania, and other long-established oil and gas provinces in the United States that have seen tremendous upswings in productivity in recent years due to the development and application of new technologies, upswings so great that the International Energy Agency and others forecast the U.S. is on the road to being once again the world’s largest oil producer, there is still further potential for Azerbaijan as an oil and gas producer. Moreover, I continue to see this area as one with significant potential for U.S. firms’.
‘There is another challenge I need to note, however, and it is one that has long kept U.S./Azerbaijan relations from reaching the level both governments have repeatedly said they want. This challenge is that of strengthening the rule of law, further fighting corruption, of addressing other important questions of governance. Initiatives such as ASAN and other reforms show Azerbaijan has been making important progress in the fight against corruption, but this effort needs to deepen and continue. Likewise, efforts to ensure fair treatment by the judiciary along with measures to improve the predictability and transparency in the way ministries and other government agencies develop and implement regulations are essential to keeping and attracting further business investment in today’s competitive world. Moreover, it is important that Azerbaijanis feel they have the freedom to create and realize new ideas, to invent, to become entrepreneurs and realize the fruits of their creativity. These entrepreneurs also need access to capital and an ecosystem – such as strong legal protection for that creativity, for intellectual property rights, for example – to create businesses, and see them grow, and thus foster increased jobs, exports, and prosperity. These have been some final thoughts and impressions from my three years as U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan. As I noted, there have been many important successes during those three years, but those successes are just some of the steps along the road to see this country be the stable, independent, democratic, and prosperous country its people want it to be’, he said.
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