Minister of Foreign Trade and Development of Finland Anne-Mari Virolainen is in Baku on Thursday within her first regional trip to the region of South Caucasus.
Today morning Finnish delegation already had a meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
In the light of first visit to Azerbaijani Minister Virolainen answered some questions from 1news.az about the bilateral cooperation. Mrs. Minister sees a lot of perspectives in tourism sector, infrastructure and transport, as well as in the field of new Finnish cleaning technologies for water and soil.
- Mrs Minister, what is your main aim of visiting Azerbaijan? What issues are on the table between our countries?
- The aim of the visit is to discuss prospects for economic cooperation between Finland and Azerbaijan, including trade and investment, as well as current business developments and opportunities in Azerbaijan.
- What areas for commercial cooperation between Finland and Azerbaijan are the most promising? Is there any intention from the sides to develop those areas?
- We welcome the positive developments in EU-Azerbaijan relations. The negotiations of the new agreement are important, and allow us as an EU member state to develop bilateral trade further.
The EU as a whole is Azerbaijan’s largest trade and investment partner. We think there will be new opportunities in cooperation in areas like tourism, infrastructure and transportation. Azerbaijan has a leading role in developing transport infrastructure in the region. We follow these developments with great interest.
- Finland is a country with great export opportunities. One of the main export items for Finland is equipment for electrical power stations in Azerbaijan which mainly exports agricultural products. In what ways export items might be extended in both directions?
- Finland can be an example of how a country exporting mainly raw materials can develop into a society producing world-class high-tech. Our main export items were pretty simple forestry products and pulp for a long period of time. And agricultural products as export items are no strangers to us: I have been told that in supermarkets of Baku you can find Finnish dairy products like Valio butter and Oltermanni cheese.
In Finland we believe that the true wealth of a nation lies with its people. Therefore, we have invested in heavily in education. Let me give an example: there is no single drop oil in Finnish soil, but a Finnish company Neste is the world largest biofuel producer.
The company can, for example, turn household waste into diesel and used cooking oil of restaurants into kerosene, with which intercontinental flights can be flown. This could not have been achieved with without strong investments in research and development: R & D expenditures are approximately 3% of GDP of Finland.
It is important to join forces, cooperate with businesses and take good use of the opportunities created by digitalization. Our focus is on creating growth, jobs, and productivity through renewal and diversification of the economy.
- What is trade turnover tendency between Finland and Azerbaijan during the last 10 years? What are your expectations?
- There is plenty of unused potential in our trade relations. Total trade volume between Finland and Azerbaijan has been 42 million euros on average during the last ten years. However, last year total volume was only 13.5 million euros.
We could do more together in many sectors. In addition to manufacture, construction and paper industry, possible interesting fields are energy efficiency, cleantech, education, biotechnology, bioeconomy and digitalization.
- Do you see the perspectives for Finnish cleantech sector in Azerbaijan taking into account long development of oil industry in the country?
- Finnish cleantech is based on efficient and competitive market based solutions. Our strengths include energy efficiency, renewable energy and biofuels, smart grids, smart city and services, for example.
We have a wide spectrum of products and many companies working in the cleantech sector. We are an open economy, keen to cooperate and share our experiences and learn from others. We are interested in following the development of the diversification of the Azerbaijani economy and the opportunities that it brings.
As an interesting fact, there was a relatively large Finnish community in Baku about 100 years ago working in the oil sector – so our history in cooperation goes far back in time!
So, Finns and Azerbaijanis share a common history, as we were once part of the same empire, and I would like to take this opportunity to warmly congratulate Azerbaijanis for the centenary of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.
- Finland is engaged in an EU project for environmental monitoring system in Azerbaijan. Given the fact that Finland is good example of ecologically clean country, do you see environment as a good opportunity to widen Finnish-Azerbaijani relations?
Finland is pleased to have the opportunity to have been involved in the first Twinning project in the environmental field in Azerbaijan with the project Upgrading the National Environmental Monitoring systems (NEMS) of Azerbaijan on the base of EU best practices.
The overall objective of the project is to improve the environmental performance of Azerbaijan by strengthening the environmental monitoring systems and capacities of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources.
The cooperation with all partners has been good. We hope the same cooperation continues throughout the project. We also look forward to this project being a starting-point for a long-term cooperation in different fields.
The main principle of a Twinning project is that experts from both the partnering EU countries and Azerbaijan work together to achieve the agreed results¬. Twinning is not just us giving advice and assistance. It is about partnership. We can introduce best practices, but Azerbaijan will do the implementation the way it chooses most suitable.