"First of all, I would like to greet all participants and express my utmost gratitude to our dear host, my brother Mevlut Cavusoglu and his devoted team from Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for having all of us here in beautiful Antalya. I hope our meeting will produce interesting exchange of opinions on where we stand and where we should be going during the near future.
“I also would like to use this opportunity to convey our gratitude to the ECO Member States and Secretary General for their participation at the 18th Summit of the Non-Alignment Movement recently held in Baku, Azerbaijan. It was the success, and I am proud we did it also as ECO. NAM Summit also served as a high platform for us to connect to the bigger world out there. Next three years of our chairmanship in NAM will be very important not only for us, but also for all of us - ECO member states. Therefore ECO should use it for own benefit. Economic dimension of our NAM chairmanship will be of special importance, therefore I call all of you to support our chairmanship and think about ideas and proposals to work out priorities. Our cooperation and synergy with G77 will be also very important, as Azerbaijan just became its member most recently.
“As we always reiterate at our ministerial meetings, Azerbaijan considers ECO as one of the important platforms of regional cooperation in our bigger neighbourhood. We certainly attach a high importance to a further development of economic and trade ties. We do so politically, because this is our political will.
“By having a strong political will, we should emphasise that goal-oriented projects and practical results should be the priority within the Organisation. In our view, there is a need to short-list priority areas for cooperation based on the measurable results and comparative advantages of the region. Trade, transportation, agriculture, information and communication technologies and tourism are areas of our primary interest of cooperation and any initiatives and projects within ECO can serve the idea of a deeper regional interaction.
“Through active participation in regional and inter-regional initiatives, Azerbaijan has always provided its support to various economic cooperation efforts in the region and beyond. In this context, I would like to stress the importance that our country gives to cooperation activities within ECO and the development of trade and cooperation in the region.
“Being a land-locked country, Azerbaijan strives to fulfil our transit and trade potential by transforming the transportation services into one of the key comparative advantages of our economy. With this in mind, Azerbaijan diversifies and modernizes its transport infrastructure, which will serve to the interconnection of the Trans-European and Trans-Asian railway networks. The backbone railway line Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, which already attracts the attention of several Chinese and European logistics companies, New International Sea Trade Port, along with an ambitious investor-friendly Free Economic Zone concept, East-West Trans-Caspian International Transport Route as the Middle Corridor for China-led Belt and Road Initiative, Lapis Lazuli trade route with its aim to unlock the potential of Afghanistan, as well as North-South and South-West trade corridors are the key infrastructure projects directed toward increasing transit capacity of the entire ECO region. If you just visualise the map of these routes, you can see a whole inter-connected web of trade arteries and capillars across our region. This is our living ambition of trade facilitation.
“Another area of cooperation with great potential in ECO region is in the field of information-communication technologies. Azerbaijan cooperates with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to implement Trans-Caspian fiber-optic cable connection to build broadband connectivity in a bid to put our countries’ names on the Eurasian ICT map. In doing so, we will actually further contribute to UN’s bridging the digital divide initiative. That also will help to digitalise trade across the ECO region.
“This brings me to a point which links trade with ICT. We need to come up with projects that may also give rise to an e-trade hub concept across the region. Here, I would like to note that one of possible joint projects, which could be implemented in the framework of ECO, is the digitalisation of trade. This can attract more trade volumes. We could jointly promote such e-trade platforms with our partners in the region. In today’s world, you don’t just wait until someone sends a containers or a wagon. We need to think creative and connect to the best available technologies or applications which maximise trade. Today, online trading platforms in fact have more trade volumes than our state companies trying to transport goods in a conventional manner. So, maybe we really should look deeper into opportunities which may lie in our cooperation format with ASEAN.
“In the field of agriculture, Azerbaijan and other ECO Member States have made significant progress. Nevertheless, I believe that cooperation should be further enhanced in this area. With this in mind, Azerbaijan proposed to hold the 6th Ministerial Meeting on Agriculture of ECO on December 3-4 this year. We are looking forward to see high-level delegations from your countries at this important ministerial event in Baku.
“Next is tourism. Cooperation in the field of tourism is important in terms of people-to-people contacts. We also consider tourism projects within ECO as a means of facilitator of people to people contacts.
“Furthermore, we also appreciate ECO’s ongoing unwavering endeavours to mainstream the sustainable energy and energy-environment nexus in its regional energy agenda in line with “ECO Vision 2025” and UN 2030 Agenda. We reckon that this regional focus could unlock ECO Region’s cooperation opportunities in renewables and energy efficiency. The establishment of ECO Clean Energy Centre could fit in well with these trends. And please, let’s not forget natural gas, because it actually is a clean fossil fuel and can act as a “transition fuel” in our economies as we try to move to better energy-efficient solutions.
“”ECO Vision 2025” document, which was adopted in 2017, should enrich ECO economic and social agenda and set the strategic direction of the Organization for the coming decade. Azerbaijan supports this reforming process via joint efforts that can enhance efficiency of current institutions and provide a possibility for further development of ECO.
“ECO has to keep pace of current realities. Having said that, it is important to underline the existence of need to revise the activity of the organization, estimate the value added so far by relevant ECO bodies. We should strengthen the capacity of the organization as a project oriented and more visible regional player. Program or project orientation may help in enhancing cooperation between the member states, as well as in economic and social development of the region. We look forward to come to concrete results and adopt documents to be laid at the base of future reforms.
“Along with the economic cooperation Azerbaijan attaches an importance to the cooperation in other spheres as well. We have signed and ratified the Statue of the ECO Regional Centre for Cooperation of Anti-Corruption Agencies and Ombudsmen (RCCACO) recently in 2019.
“ECO constituency is a friendly family for Azerbaijan. We highly value our history-long relations.
“Of course, as we all have to admit that as it is reflected in our Antalya Communiqué, existing unresolved conflicts in the ECO region, including Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, prevent our full fledge cooperation.
“Challenging realities on the ground must be fixed, so to allow greater cooperation between our countries.
“There is also another important provision in our communiqué, which mentions the importance of withstanding other pressures in the region, including common threats and pertinent conflicts.
“Unfortunately this is not just a political reflection of the reality, but as well the pressing issue of forgone economic opportunities for our region. For example, if it were not for the occupation of our territories by Armenia, we would have a direct swift railway link between Iran and Nakhchivan.
“They are and should even more be grounded on the principles of solidarity. No regional economic cooperation is possible if political and military challenges, including the cases of occupation and illegal activities in the occupied territories are not removed. That’s why what the Declaration of Islamabad Summit of 2017 emphasized in respect to this very issue should be streamlined in ECO Member States own national and regional activities," he said.