APA presents interview with UK Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ms. Carole Crofts
Q: One year has passed since you started your mission in Azerbaijan? How do you estimate the current level of relations between the two countries? What can you say about political relations?
A: At our National Day celebration in June we celebrated the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries. We shared with our guests a wonderful slide show about our bilateral relationship, accompanied by the Salamanca military band, who were visiting Baku for the first time. The pictures showed how our links have grown from strength to strength over the last quarter century and some of the many highlights during that time. My first year in my role as the UK Ambassador to Baku has given me the opportunity to see at first hand the extent of our bilateral links. From our political ties, to our economic and energy links, to our cultural and historical links we have so much to celebrate. Azerbaijan is an important partner for the UK and it is a real privilege for me to be here as Ambassador.
Q: Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has made it clear that all of Azerbaijan’s terms should be fulfilled in order for the Contract of the Century to be extended. Are these terms acceptable to the UK, as well as BP?
A: As you know, this is a commercial contract and the embassy is not involved in the negotiations. But I can say that I am delighted that BP enjoys such an excellent reputation in Azerbaijan, as a stable, trusted and long term partner. When I travel around the country I sometimes see signs advertising a local company’s "BP health and safety standards”, which underlines to me how much BP’s reputation throughout Azerbaijan has become synonymous with excellence, with quality, with the highest standards. And I know that for BP Azerbaijan is a hugely important partner.
Q. BP is actively involved in energy projects in Azerbaijan. Some other British companies are also involved in these projects as contractors. What is your view of the future activities of these companies?
A: Again it is not for the embassy to comment on the activities of independent companies. But what I can say is that I am aware of Azerbaijan’s status as not only a major global energy player but also as a source of opportunity for many other areas of business.
Q: The UK is one of the top five countries making the most investment in the fixed capital in Azerbaijan. However, it is no secret that BP has made the most investments. What steps do you think should be taken to change this situation?
A: The UK is the largest foreign investor in Azerbaijan, accounting for more than half of all foreign direct investment and has been consistently in the top five countries exporting goods to Azerbaijan. Around 400 British businesses operate in Azerbaijan from major international firms to SMEs with specialist capabilities. And not just in oil and gas, but also in construction, design, management, education, retail, and so on. There is scope for much more, including financial services, infrastructure, ICT and transport.
Q: Work is underway to implement the Southern Gas Corridor. What’s the UK’s view of this project’s role in ensuring Europe’s energy security?
A: The Southern Gas Corridor will change the energy map of this region and make a significant contribution to Europe’s energy security. This project is one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. Gas from the Caspian Sea will make a 3,500 kilometer journey into Europe, scaling heights of up to 2700m above sea level. With the support of seven governments and 11 different companies, it is a truly remarkable undertaking. And it has been designed to be scalable to twice its initial capacity to accommodate additional gas in the future. I am pleased and proud that British expertise is at the forefront of this project.
Q: Do you think the trade turnover between the two countries reflect the existing potential? What is going to be done to increase the turnover?
A: The UK-Azerbaijan trade relationship is evolving all the time. A great example of our close cooperation is the Ministerial led Joint Intergovernmental Commission which is supported at the highest level by both countries. And we now have a Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy, Baroness Nicholson who has visited Azerbaijan three times since her appointment just over a year ago. The network of Trade Envoys represents a cross-section of political parties and has been drawn from both UK Houses of Parliament. Appointments are unpaid and the programme aims to capitalise on the personal insight, experience and knowledge of these key players. As anyone who has met the Baroness will know, her visits bring energy, focus and fun to our bilateral links and on her return to the UK the Baroness continues to work hard to develop our shared bilateral objectives.
Q: Azerbaijan, along with the other partner countries, is set to make the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway line ready by the end of the year. What do you think of this project’s role in rapid shipment of Chinese goods to Europe?
A: Railways are often one of the most efficient means of transport, particularly for goods and cargo. I understand Azerbaijan’s aim to make the most of its unique geographic location to be a strategic transport hub, to develop both east- west and north- south transport corridors which will help promote trade and prosperity in the region.
Q: During UK Ministry of Defense Director for International Security Policy Nick Gurr’s visit to Azerbaijan, the sides discussed holding regular staff talks between the ministries of defense. Would you please provide more detailed information in this regard? What do you think of the two countries’ relations in the area of defense? What do you think of Azerbaijan’s participation in NATO operations in Afghanistan?
A: I am sure you will understand that it would not be appropriate for us to comment on private discussions, but I will say that the defence and security cooperation between our two countries is excellent. We stand together in the fight against international terrorism, in promoting secure borders and in sharing relevant experience and expertise. We very much value Azerbaijan’s support and cooperation and are keen to work closely together to promote peace, security and prosperity for both our countries.
Q: There hasn’t been a high-level visit from the UK to Azerbaijan for long. Are we going to see any change in this tendency by the end of this year?
A: We have regular high level visits between senior officials, which are too numerous to list here. We are expecting Ministerial talks later this year as part of our political, trade and economic dialogue under the Joint Intergovernmental Commission, which will be held in Baku, probably in the autumn.
Q: In March, UK officials began realizing Brexit. There are opinions that the referendum results might change. How likely is it?
A: The result of the referendum on Brexit will not change. The referendum result is respected by the British Government, Article 50 has been triggered and the negotiations for the UK to leave the EU have started. I would also like to say a few words about the UK and our position in the world. In recent years, the UK has been the fastest growing economy in the G7 and one of the strongest major advanced economies in the world. The UK has the highest employment rate in its history, low and stable inflation, and is an attractive place to do business. Our economy is strong, highly competitive and open for business. The UK is and will remain outward looking, globally minded and a beacon for open trade.
Q: After the general elections, it became clear that the Prime Minister won’t be able to form the government by himself. Do you think it could affect the Brexit talks or bring about a government crisis?
A: May I refer you to The Queen’s Speech of 21 June which heralds an historically important two-year session to help deliver the legislation for a successful Brexit.
Q: While the UK is set to exit the EU, Azerbaijan is in talks to deepen cooperation with this organization. What do you think of these talks? How important is it for the EU to deepen relations with Azerbaijan?
A: The UK supports EU efforts in relation to deepening cooperation with Azerbaijan and the UK is strongly committed to Azerbaijan and to the region, and to cooperating with the EU in relation to it. This will remain the case post-Brexit. The EU’s work programme for the region has the potential to make a valuable contribution, including creating more and better jobs through economic development and building market opportunities; improving governance and enhancing security cooperation; strengthening connectivity, energy efficiency and climate change adaptation and mitigation; building mobility and people to people contacts, particularly among young people.
Q: Despite the fact that the UK is not an OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing country, its stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is always very important for Azerbaijan. What do you think about the solution of this conflict? What do you think why the parties encountered trouble in peace talks?
A: The UK’s Government position on this has not changed. We hope for a peaceful resolution of this conflict, for a sustainable and agreed political settlement. And we support the efforts of the Minsk Group co-Chairs to help promote a peaceful solution. It saddens me that every year people continue to die as a result of this conflict and the suffering of the displaced and dispossessed continues. Sometimes it seems that divisions and differences grow and the possibilities of a brighter future for the region seem to become yet more distant. But we must continue to strive for a peaceful resolution. Only diplomacy can bring about peace.