Exclusive interview of Azernews with the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Swiss Confederation in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan Muriel Peneveyre.
In 2022, Azerbaijan and Switzerland celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. In an interview with Azernews, the ambassador expressed optimism on the current state and development of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
– Mr. Ambassador, could you tell us about the history of relations between Switzerland and Azerbaijan? When did Switzerland and Azerbaijan open embassies? What is your assessment of the current state of Azerbaijani-Swiss relations?
Diplomatic relations between Switzerland and the Republic of Azerbaijan were established on January 21, 1992, and the Swiss Embassy in Baku opened in 2008. Besides the 30e
anniversary of diplomatic relations, 2022 also marks the 30e anniversary of our common constituencies at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
This year we have already had a high-level visit: the President of the Milli Majlis of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ms. Sahiba Gafarova, paid an official visit to Bern from May 9 to 11, 2022.
Bilateral relations between Switzerland and Azerbaijan are very good and cover a wide range of areas: political and economic, but also related to people-to-people exchanges, such as sport and culture. Furthermore, Swiss international cooperation has been active in Azerbaijan for more than 20 years. The new Swiss cooperation program for the South Caucasus region 2022-2025 was launched in December 2021.
– A meeting of the Azerbaijani-Swiss intergovernmental commission is scheduled for this year in Baku. What issues should be discussed? Are there plans to sign new cooperation agreements and, in general, does Switzerland plan to extend its cooperation with Azerbaijan (if so, in which sectors)?
There are different formats in which bilateral relations between Switzerland and Azerbaijan are discussed:
On June 3, 2022, a new round of political consultations between the two foreign ministries took place in Bern, where a wide range of bilateral and international topics were discussed. On this occasion, an agreement on paid work activities for those accompanying members of diplomatic missions was signed.
Economic issues are discussed at meetings of the Joint Economic and Commercial Commission between the ministries of economy. The last meeting of this Commission was held in Bern in 2019, before the pandemic, and we are currently looking for a suitable date for the next meeting in Baku. These meetings always provide a good opportunity to get a comprehensive picture of the relationship and discuss its future development.
– What can you say about the economic cooperation between the two countries? (Mutual investment/turnover/SOCAR operations in Switzerland/etc)
The volume of bilateral trade between Switzerland and Azerbaijan is good, it amounted to 261 million francs in 2021, which is more than in 2020. The next meeting of the Joint Economic and Trade Commission will certainly make it possible to discuss ways to further increase these exchanges.
Besides trade, there are Swiss investments in Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani investments in Switzerland, which are mutually beneficial. In Azerbaijan, significant investments have been made by Swiss companies in the non-oil sector, thus contributing to the diversification of the economy.
– In your opinion, what are the major projects that Switzerland has implemented in Azerbaijan and are you satisfied with their outcome? Are there any projects underway or in the pipeline currently?
In 2019, we celebrated 20 years of Swiss international cooperation in Azerbaijan.
In recent years, Swiss-funded projects have mainly focused on economic development, including strengthening public finance management and improving the business environment. For example, one project provided technical assistance for the development of a medium-term public debt management strategy.
Switzerland has worked with Azerbaijani banks to develop credit assessment tools to improve risk rating and credit quality in agricultural financing. This allows SMEs and the agricultural sector in particular to have more inclusive access to financing and to invest better and more easily in their businesses in order to develop. Switzerland is ready to finance other projects that facilitate access to financing for agricultural businesses. Discussions are currently underway with relevant government organizations in Azerbaijan.
In addition, Switzerland is very committed to the economic empowerment of women. We financially support three resource centers for women, two of which (in Qusar and Baku-Khazar) were even created with Swiss funding. Another will be established in Horadiz. These women’s resource centers provide training and seed capital to women to help them find formal employment or start their own businesses. This was the case for more than 180 women in the recent past.
– Does the Swiss government or the private sector plan to get involved in the process of restoring Karabakh?
In December 2021, the new Swiss cooperation program for the South Caucasus region 2022-2025 was launched. As mentioned above, Switzerland’s international cooperation in Azerbaijan focuses on projects in the field of economic development. These projects are funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and are implemented in cooperation with Azerbaijani ministries. They are not geographically limited to specific regions but benefit the whole country.
With regard to private companies, the decision of Swiss private companies to invest or establish business relations rests with the companies themselves, in which the Swiss government has no legal competence to interfere. In the case of tenders open to Swiss companies, the latter certainly have reliable technical solutions, high value-added products and in-depth expertise to offer, for example in areas such as infrastructure and transport, construction , engineering and clean technologies.
– As this year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Switzerland, does your embassy plan to mark this date?
30e anniversary will be at the center of the official reception of the national holiday that the Embassy will organize in September. As you may know, the Swiss National Day is on August 1, but this year another important event for the work of the Embassy will take place on this date: the move of our offices to new premises. I am delighted that this year, which marks the 30th anniversary of bilateral relations, the Embassy in Baku can move into modern, user-friendly premises equipped with state-of-the-art technology.
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