Azerbaijan’s New Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev led a delegation to Shanghai for the just concluded Second China International Import Expo (CIIE).

Azerbaijan’s New Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev spoke in an recent interview on this occasion. He spoke highly of the CIIE and praised the remarks of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Opening Ceremony as very Intelligent.

Mustafayev said Azerbaijan attached great importance to the expo and would take full advantage of China’s opening-up opportunities to further enhance cooperation with China.

Question: What exhibits did Azerbaijan bring to the Chinese people at this year’s CIIE?

Mustafayev:  This is the second time that Azerbaijan has participated in the CIIE. This year, I led a large delegation with more than 60 representatives and 26 companies.

They exhibited more than 500 commodities, including Azerbaijan’s best agricultural products and food, such as alcohol, soda, dried fruits, tea and vegetable oil.

With economic and trade relations between the two countries developing rapidly in recent years, we are actively promoting the best quality products in the Chinese market.

From January to September this year, Azerbaijan’s trade with China reached $1.7 billion, an increase of 96 percent compared with the same period of last year. Azerbaijan is China’s most important trading partner in the South Caucasus region.

Question: Compared with last year’s CIIE, what’s your expectation for cooperation between Azerbaijan and Chinese companies at this year’s expo?

Mustafayev: When I attended the opening ceremony on November 5, President Xi Jinping gave a keynote speech. I think his speech carries much wisdom.

From this very important speech, it became clear that China had further opened its economy to the world and created equal opportunities for all the countries. We will take full advantage of these opportunities.

On November 5, I participated in a parallel session discussing openness, regulation and the business environment and introduced the economic achievements and favourable business environment in Azerbaijan.

On November 7, I gave a speech at the 2019 Global Trade and International Logistics Summit Forum and held a signing ceremony between the institutions and enterprises of the two countries. On that occasion, the two sides signed three MOUs (memorandums of understanding) and seven purchase agreements.

I want to note, this year we saw even more interest from Chinese companies in our products and investment potential.

Question: In 2015, Azerbaijan and China signed an MOU on joint encouragement of the establishment of the Silk Road Economic Belt. Azerbaijan was one of the first countries that supported the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI). What changes have been brought to Azerbaijan by joining the BRI?

Mustafayev: Since the MOU was signed in 2015, trade between Azerbaijan and China has increased by 2.5 times. The mutual trust formed has created a very good foundation for further development of economic cooperation between the two countries.

Azerbaijan is currently investing $1.7 billion in indirect investment in China. Perhaps $1.7 billion is not a big sum for China, but for Azerbaijan, this amount is quite large.

Due to immense interest in the mutual development of the BRI and its potential, Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev successfully participated in the 2nd Belt & Road Forum for International Cooperation. By attending this important event President Aliyev reiterated Azerbaijan’s full support to BRI.

In April, our president met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The fruitful results achieved during the meeting made us believe that Azerbaijan’s relations with China have advanced to a new level. During the Second Belt & Road Forum for International Cooperation, Azerbaijan signed 10 cooperative documents with Chinese companies, worth of more than $800 million.

In February of this year, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Azerbaijan State Tourism Agency signed an MOU on the implementation plan for Chinese tourism groups to travel to Azerbaijan. From January to September this year, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Azerbaijan increased by 64 percent.

At the same time, we have also cooperated with China in the field of international transportation. We have achieved substantial progress in this field with Shaanxi Province. Chinese products are now going to Europe through the Trans-Caspian Corridor.

Question: Recently, the National Bureau of Statistics of China released the economic data of the first three quarters of 2019. Some foreign media outlets said that China’s growth has slowed to its lowest level in nearly 30 years, indicating a slide in China’s economic development momentum. What’s your opinion on it?

Mustafayev: First of all, I want to emphasise that China has a unique economic development model and economic reform model, which will continue to play a very important role in China’s future development. Unlike some other countries, China does not adopt a restrictive model. Instead, China views cooperation with other countries as an opportunity for economic development.

The data also proves this: China’s economy grew by 6.2 percent from January to September this year, which is in full compliance with the Chinese government’s target of 6 percent to 6.5 percent. In the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 Report, China has risen from 46th to 31st place out of 190 countries; China ranked 28th out of 141 countries in the 2019 Global Competitiveness Report produced by the World Economic Forum.

This data shows that we should positively evaluate the future of China’s economic development.

Question: Azerbaijan has become an important transportation hub for Eurasia in recent years. What’s your take on this?

Mustafayev: Azerbaijan has a unique geographical location, and many transportation corridors span our country. In addition to the East-West Trans-Caspian Corridor, North-South, South-West and North-West international transportation corridors pass through Azerbaijan. To facilitate all these passages, Azerbaijan has substantially improved its infrastructure.

In Caspian Sea we carry the largest shipping fleet. New modern Baku International Sea Trade Port and completed Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway had enabled operation of East-West Trans-Caspian Corridor. Interstate highway and railroad infrastructure are constantly being renewed and expanded.

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report, Azerbaijan ranks 31st in terms of transportation infrastructure efficiency, 11th in railway efficiency, 12th in aviation infrastructure efficiency, 25th in maritime port efficiency and 27th in the quality of road infrastructure.

Question: In your new post as Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Azerbaijan, what new measures will you take to develop the relations between the two countries?

Mustafayev: Our President promoted me to Deputy Prime Minister and asked me to continue to promote the relationship between Azerbaijan and China in my new position. At the same time, he signed a decree and designated me as the co-chairman of the Azerbaijan-China Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation.

I will rely on the political will of the two heads of state, the friendship and goodwill between the two nations, and the economic potential of the two countries to facilitate cooperation in economy and trade, transportation, tourism, agriculture, communications and technology.

Azerbaijan also has a good business environment. We ranked 34th in the Doing Business 2020 Report and we also entered the list of top 20 reformer countries.

In the 2019 Global Competitiveness Report, Azerbaijan ranked 58th. The good business environment formed by China and Azerbaijan will certainly promote the cooperation between the two countries in the economic field.