Ambassador Hanum Ibrahimova gave an interview to SWI swissinfo.ch, an international service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), on the occasion of the launch of Baku-Geneva direct flights

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Swiss Confederation and the Principality of Liechtenstein Khanim Ibrahimova gave an interview to SWI swissinfo.ch, an international service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), on the occasion of the launch of Baku-Geneva direct flights.

Q: What do you think of the current state of political relations between Azerbaijan and Switzerland?

A: Relations between Azerbaijan and Switzerland are based on friendship and mutual trust. The two countries enjoy serious partnership relations determined by the high dynamics of development. There is a high-level political dialogue between Azerbaijan and Switzerland, which is of a regular nature.

This dialogue is conducted through regular meetings of the heads of state in the framework of the annual meetings on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, inter-parliamentary relations, bilateral contacts at the level of the ministries of foreign affairs and other relevant bodies of both countries. In order to portray the current state of bilateral political relations between Azerbaijan and Switzerland, it is important to note the high-level visits and meetings held over the past year.

Of these, I would single out the meeting of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev with Swiss President Alain Berset within the framework of the World Economic Forum and Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Amman’s visit to Azerbaijan in this summer. During the visit to Baku, the federal councilor chaired the Azerbaijani-Swiss business forum. In addition, the transit potential of Azerbaijan was presented in Zurich in September this year at an event, entitled “New Silk Road”. The event was organized by the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Switzerland in cooperation with the Swiss-CIS Chamber of Commerce.

Speaking about political relations between the two countries, it is interesting to look at the development of bilateral inter-parliamentary relations. I would like to note that there are only 18 inter-parliamentary friendship groups in the Swiss Federal Parliament, and we are very pleased that one of them is the inter-parliamentary friendship group between Azerbaijan and Switzerland.

The main task lying ahead our Embassy is to maintain the intensity and subsequent development of relations between the two countries.

Q: What about the development of trade, economic and humanitarian relations between the two countries?

A: Political relations between Azerbaijan and Switzerland have created favorable conditions for cooperation in the economic and humanitarian spheres. Azerbaijan’s economic achievements make the country attractive for Swiss businessmen.

Holcim, a Swiss-based global building materials and aggregates company, occupied one of the first places in terms of investments in Azerbaijan’s non-oil sector. Moreover, another Swiss company Stadler Rail cooperates with Azerbaijan Railways CJSC. At present, the trains built by Stadler Rail are used on the Baku-Sumgayit railway line, and it is also planned to carry out passenger transportation via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway by Stadler trains. The Swiss companies ABB Global Marketing and Trub Trading International enjoy successful cooperation with Azerbaijani companies, as well.

Sixty-seven Swiss companies are currently operating in the service, trade, construction, industry, transport, banking and insurance sectors in Azerbaijan.

In 1995-2017, the volume of foreign investments from Switzerland to Azerbaijan amounted to $851.9 million, while the volume of investments from Azerbaijan to Switzerland reached $1.1 billion.

As for the economic relations between the two countries, one cannot fail to note the exceptional role of the Azerbaijani-Swiss Joint Intergovernmental Economic Commission. It is planned to hold another regular meeting of the Commission in Bern in early 2019.

Both countries closely cooperate in the financial sphere. Azerbaijan is a member of the Election Group of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and praises the activities of Switzerland in this group.

With regard to humanitarian cooperation, we pay special attention to education. Given the peculiarity of the Swiss education system, Azerbaijan is interested in further expanding cooperation with this country.

Q: A SOCAR enterprise has been operating in Switzerland for several years. What do you think about other areas in which Azerbaijani companies can work and invest in Switzerland?

A: Thanks to the economic achievements in recent years, Azerbaijan has turned from a country that receives investments into an investing country. Several years ago, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) entered the Swiss energy market by acquitting ESSO filling stations owned by Exxon Mobil in this country. Following major investments in Switzerland, now 172 filling stations are successfully operating under the SOCAR brand.

Q: What are the priorities of bilateral economic relations between Azerbaijan and Switzerland in the near future?

A: Thanks to the serious economic reforms implemented by the Azerbaijani government in recent years, now the country is producing high-quality competitive products, and the Made in Azerbaijan brand can be met with great interest in the Swiss market. In this regard, our priority is to work on the promotion of Azerbaijani products in the Swiss market.

For example, nuts. Switzerland, as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of chocolate, currently imports about 20,000 tons of nuts per year, mainly for use in the production of chocolate. The Embassy held meetings with leading Swiss importers of nuts and discussed the possibility of exporting these products from Azerbaijan.

In 2017, exports of non-oil products from Azerbaijan to Switzerland amounted to $143 million, so Switzerland is the third largest importer of non-oil products from Azerbaijan after Turkey and Russia. Our embassy received a preliminary agreement on the sale of Azerbaijani products in the chain store Migrolino, a subsidiary of the Swiss concern Migros.

Q: Are the Swiss cantons interested in cooperation with Azerbaijan, and if so, in what areas?

A: Azerbaijan is interested in establishing relations with Switzerland at the cantonal level. During meetings with representatives of some Swiss cantons, an exchange of views were held on holding business forums, establishing direct contacts between the cantons and districts of Azerbaijan and other issues. Following these meetings, a preliminary agreement has already been reached on holding business forums in several cantons of Switzerland.

Q: Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) has recently begun to implement Baku-Geneva direct flights. How will this affect business ties between the two countries?

A: Switzerland is one of the leading countries worldwide in terms of tourist arrivals. Given the fact that beautiful nature, historical monuments and other factors attract tourist, Azerbaijan can also benefit from its tourism potential. The high living standard of the Swiss population and the desire to spend holidays in foreign countries have created an additional incentive for organizing direct flights from Switzerland to Azerbaijan.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of tourists from Azerbaijan to Switzerland, especially to Geneva, which is one of the largest banking and industrial centers in Europe. So we welcome AZAL’s decision to open Baku-Geneva direct flights.

Q: How do you feel as the only female ambassador to Switzerland from a Muslim country?

A: I grew up in a country where interfaith dialogue remains the basis of state policy, where representatives of all religions feel absolutely comfortable and enjoy all rights. Our country is secular, and social relations are government by secular norms.

The first success of Azerbaijani women in diplomacy, as we know from history, dates back to the Middle Ages. He is associated with the name of the first woman diplomat of the East – Sara Khatun.

Throughout the country's history, women in Azerbaijan have contributed to the solution of important problems of the people. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, established in 1918, equally enfranchised men and women residing in the country. Thus, Azerbaijan became the first country in the East to grant suffrage to woman.

In recent years, the position and significance of women in Azerbaijani society have changed, and women, who have equal rights with men, are actively involved in social and political life. In this regard, special attention should be paid to the activities of Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva, First Vice-President of Azerbaijan, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Goodwill Ambassador of UNESCO and ISESCO. I would like to note that at present 52 percent of the staff of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry are women.

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