President Aliyev made a speech at the session.
Moderator and host: Let’s begin with you, Mr. President. What does the “One Belt, One Road” Initiative mean for a neighboring country like Azerbaijan? I know you have been devoting your country’s economy not only to oil and gas but also to building infrastructure.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, you are absolutely right. The creation of modern infrastructure is one of the main objectives of our government. Taking advantage of our geographical location, I think, we did the right thing investing largely in infrastructure – with respect to internal infrastructure and infrastructure, which will allow Azerbaijan to become one of the international transportation hubs. We are investing largely in infrastructure inside the country with respect to road construction, highways, airports, gasification and power generation. Also, we largely invested in transportation infrastructure, which allows us to transport cargos from East to West, West to East, as well as from North to South and South to North.
Azerbaijan is an active member of the East-West transportation corridor initiative. We definitely support the “One Belt, One Road” Initiative of the Chinese government. Azerbaijan also provides facilities for countries which are situated to the north and south of Azerbaijan to join this project. I am already observing it. Azerbaijan is the only country that is a member of both East-West and North-South transportation corridors. Therefore, we spend a lot of money for modernizing our railroad systems, building one of the biggest seaports on the Caspian shore, which is capable of transporting up to 25 million tons of cargo, and building the missing part between Europe and Asia, which is particularly Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad that connects us with Turkey and then with Europe, and provides good accommodations and good tariff policy for those who want to use our road. The number of cargo transportation is growing. Last year, only the North-South transportation corridor transported ten times more cargo than the year before.
Moderator and host: I have to confess that I used to have an interview with Mr. President, and he remembers all the numbers. We are only analyzing only small portions of the numbers with you now.
Let’s talk about debt, Mr. President as you faced this issue many, many times. If I do not remember wrongly, about ten years you had to answer many questions about debts from many peoples coming all over the world. What about that?
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, as far as infrastructure is concerned, we financed it mainly from our state budget. I think we managed to properly channel the revenues we got from the oil and gas sales to invest in infrastructure so that now we can be proud of this. According to the Davos World Economic Forum assessment, with respect to the quality of roads, Azerbaijan is the number 34 in the world. Hence, that was done thanks to the money we earned from oil and gas sales. Then, of course, it led to the creation of better business climate, because when you have modern infrastructure, electricity, gasification, good roads and highways, then it will be easier to invest for business. And we did a lot on that track, as well. According to the last Doing Business report of the World Bank, Azerbaijan ranks 25th globally, and we made the record improvement – 32 positions higher. We are among the ten most reformist countries in this program of the World Bank.
Moderator and host: Mr. President, I know you have a lot of beautiful resultative numbers to share with us. However, the process leading to a result is not always easy. That’s why I ask you about the debt issue. Because you have also been accused like others of the debt issue as a result of building infrastructure. So which would you like to share with others about how this issue can be resolved? From your perspective, Mr. President.
President Ilham Aliyev: Our strategy always was for many years that we should spend less than we earn, preferably much less. That’s why we did not accumulate big debts. As far as internal debt is concerned, it is very low. Our foreign debt equals to only 19 percent of our GDP. We have a strategy of reducing it [foreign debt] close to 10 percent. As I said before, all infrastructure projects were implemented in Azerbaijan, as well as projects on the connectivity of countries, have been done without borrowing. We had to borrow a lot 20 years ago when we were not developed and we were poor, and I am grateful to those financial institutions which lent money. Now we lend money. Azerbaijan has a strategy of not only investing in other countries but also in infrastructure and the real economy. Nevertheless, we are also lending money for infrastructure projects in other countries. Therefore, our debt has no relation to infrastructure. Nonetheless, when we invested in infrastructure, we did not expect an immediate return. We understand that the return will not be direct. You will not earn money for constructing a road. However, you will earn money from taxes to be paid by those, who will use this road to bring their goods to the market, or from money to be paid by those who use our territory as transit from East to West and backward. On the other hand, I think that money we spent on infrastructure domestically and with respect to regional cooperation, maybe return in a decade.
Link for the full version of the session on “Advancing the Belt and Road Initiative: China’s Trillion Dollar Vision”