From the talk of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev with heads of GUUAM and directors of chambers of trade and industry of other states - Presidential Palace, May 4, 2001

Heydar Aliyev: I am greeting you, welcome to Azerbaijan! I am very pleased that GUUAM states along with other Eastern European and Baltic have decided to come together at the level of heads of chambers of trade and industry to exchange views, hold discussions and search for opportunities to bolster relations. When I was told about an initiative to hold such a meeting, I paid close attention to this and approved it, and I also applaud you.

To my knowledge, you have worked efficiently here. Artur Rasizadeh, Prime Minister of the country took part at the opening of your symposium. I asked him to convey my greetings to you. I think he did. Now your work is coming to an end and you wanted to meet me, I am very glad to meet you. I would like to listen to you now.

Suleyman Tatliyev (chairman of the Chamber of Trade and Industry of Azerbaijan): Distinguished Mr. President, first, let me warmly greet You on behalf of the guests and to thank You to take Your time to receive us. We know that You are very busy with state affairs. Your every minute is precious. That is why we thank You for receiving us.

An idea to hold this symposium came to us during your meeting in the framework of the millennium summit in New York, as heads of GUUAM member states. You discussed very important issues of ensuring peace and security, boosting economic contacts in the region. You held comprehensive talks on restoration of the Great Silk Road. Then an idea came to us, why not we, the chambers, combine our efforts and participate in implementation of these huge programs? We appealed to our colleagues and they responded us positively with great pleasure and we held a meeting in two days. The work was very useful, first we held a common meeting, and then a general session, and a number of various issues were discussed. They were of professional issues concerning to chambers of trade and industries. We also discussed issues of broadening economic ties. We concluded our work today. We signed agreements on future cooperation with the Republic of Lithuania and Czech Republic.

I hope the symposium will give us opportunities to broaden our commercial ties and carry out tasks which You have put for us.

Guram Akhvlediani (President of Chamber of Industry & Trade of Georgia): Your Excellency, esteemed Mr. President, we, participants of the first symposium of the GUUAM countries had a great honor to be received by You. We thank You for Your attention and consider this as an expression of Your interest inn strengthening and developing our union. Symposium gave an opportunity to consider a number of economic issues and make clear a role of the chambers of industry and commerce to deal with them. We hope that our discussions and signed official document will contribute to further strengthen the ties among business people of the GUUAM countries.

We`d like to especially note that the symposium was held at a high level. Suleyman Tatliyev, our old friend and staff of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Azerbaijan have rendered great services. I would let myself express my feelings on Your beautiful city Baku which I have in my heart for a long time.

It is hard to find such nations so friendly and kind during the history of their existence albeit difference in ethnicity, language and religion. After two days of our declaration Georgia as an independent republic on May 26, 1918, Fatali khan Khoyski and his comrades declared independent Republic of Azerbaijan in Tbilisi. Alimardan bay Topchubashov, our countryman was the first chairman of the Parliament of Azerbaijan.

It is nice to perceive that some remarkable events of the history are culture of Azerbaijan are connected with Georgia, as well as a number of outstanding figures of Georgia are related to Azerbaijan. Your Excellency, You and Eduard Shevardnadze, President of Georgia are the brightest political leaders. In Your example, we may learn how to link interests of nation and state with economic policy and process of integration in the GUUAM region. Implementation of the global international projects like Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Great Silk Road, launched at Your initiative, will give a stimulus to the economies of our countries and change the life of our peoples.

Georgia especially appreciates Your role in these historical processes. Your Excellency, I once more thank You, hosts and all the people present herefor the attention and cnance to make a speech in such a considerable meeting.

Viktor Yanovski (first vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce and Trade of Ukraine): Very distinguished Heydar Aliyevitch, first of all, I would also like to thank You on behalf of the Ukrainian delegation for the time and opportunity to meet You, albeit Your busy schedule,.

W have come here at the invitation of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Azerbaijan to take part at a very interesting symposium dedicated to cooperation among GUUAM states and others interested inn such cooperation. We have friendly relations with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Azerbaijan for a long time. We have an agreement on cooperation, and we exchange information on business and economy. This assists our business people to establish closer contacts.

In Baku, we, most of us for the first time, have witnessed a real improvement of economic situation and growth of industry and welfare of the people.

We see that the economy of Azerbaijan is invested, including by foreign investors, and this is a clear evidence of confirmation and implementation of the path defined by the President of Azerbaijan.

Distinguished Heydar Aliyevitch, you are deeply considered and respected in Ukraine as a prominent state figure who contributed to strengthening of friendship and cooperation between our nations. Your personal friendship with Leonid Danilovitch Kuchma, President of Ukraine, is highly appreciated. If presidents of the countries make friendship, eventually, not only presidents of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Azerbaijan and Ukraine, but also as other member countries` do the same. Our symposium, which assumed a task of finding out what could the Chambers of Commerce and Industry do to strengthen cooperation in our region and find new opportunities for business, was held in such an environment of friendship and cooperation. Because of loss of a number of our contacts during 10 years of our independence, it is necessary to restore them and establish new economic ties. Certainly, that is why, the role of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry consists of assisting to business people, setting exhibition, issuing various certificates, as well as movement of goods and rendering other possible services.

The world experience confirms that chambers of commerce and industry, celebrated their 400th year of anniversary in Paris in 1999, are of great importance. Along being NGOs, representing interests of business people, they are also the partners of the government agencies. In their turn, in a number of countries, including in Azerbaijan, government agencies support activity of the chambers and adopt laws on Chambers of Commerce and Industry. We are pleased that we have a law on Chamber of Commerce and Industry and it regulates the status of our organization in the state economy. The participants of our symposium declared the necessity of establishing of a coordinating body that could assist to business circles of our countries and coordinate the activity of our organizations. We hope that after the establishment of such a body, it will work in a close contact with other coordinating bodies within GUUAM.

Let me once more thank You for the opportunity to make a speech and for Your attention.

George Kuku (President of Chamber of Commerce): Your Excellency, highly distinguished Heydar Aliyevitch, it is great honor for me, and I think for all the people present here, to meet You after wrapping up of our symposium, our work. I want to say that chambers of commerce and industry enjoy multilateral ties and we meet at various forums. But there was no such serious and efficient work with the support of Your government, especially president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Azerbaijan, here.

During two days, we assiduously and seriously discussed a number of issues of our activity and future work in the framework of GUUAM. There were many interesting proposals and suggestions. We tackled all of this and yet we have to work on documents a lot.

Highly distinguished Heydar Aliyevitch, we leave here out with sincere, positive impressions about Azerbaijan and with changes occurred here. I have had honor to be within the official delegation of our former president Luchinksy when he visited here. I can see what advancements you have made and what wise steps you have taken in foreign and domestic policy.

I would like to thank You for organization of this symposium and for everything and I would like to assure You that chambers of commerce and industry will be partners in conducting the policy of GUUAM.

Muzaffarbay Sabirov (president of the Chamber of Producers and Entrepreneurs of Uzbekistan): Distinguished Mr. President, I am very pleased to be in Your beautiful city and represent entrepreneurs of Uzbekistan here. I think that this forum will give impetus to development of business in the GUUAM countries, as well as in those countries that took part in the symposium. I have with me business people from Uzbekistan here. They worked actively here, and they are working presently. In my opinion, these results will lay a suitable ground for development of the economy of Uzbekistan.

There is a rising growth ongoing in Uzbekistan. You are probably aware of this. It has been pointed out in section meetings yesterday, too. I suppose it will be mutually profitable for all the GUUAM member states and directly for Azerbaijan. As You know, we don`t have our own harbor. A number of products are exported and imported via the Caspian harbor and this cooperation will be mutually beneficial.

We adopted official information with our colleagues. There is an appeal to our governments in the document for elimination of impediments to movement of goods via this transport artery and functioning of this mechanism harmonically as a clock gifted to all of us today. Mr. President, we will serve to economic advancement of our countries and I wish You successes in Your work for prosperity of Azerbaijan. Thank You for Your attention.

Heydar Aliyev: Thank you. First, I thank you for your interesting speeches. I think these speeches express not only opinions of those who are present here, but all the participants of the symposium as well. I am pleased that you are satisfied with the fact of holding of the symposium and with works which have been done. This is the most important. Because every work must result in profit, not formal. As I understood from all your speeches that it was like that. Establishment of closer ties among the chambers of commerce and industry of the countries that are represented here is of great importance. To my knowledge, it has been initiated by the chambers of commerce and industry of GUUAM countries, Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova. Along with them, representatives of a number of Eastern European and Baltic countries also took part in this symposium with equal rights. I consider this quite natural, because our regions are closely linked to each other. Indeed, all nations endeavor to advance their economies and grow prosperity of their peoples. This happens via integration into the world economy, commerce, turnover of commodities and other means.

Our countries, which gained their independence, live in a complex period. Because, we move from one socio-economic and political system to another. But sometimes some say that this transition period lasted too long. Of course, they are wrong. Because countries which lived in conditions of socialist economy and isolated during 70 years cannot build their independent and sovereign states or develop their economies based on principles of the market economy implementing economic, political and juridical reforms in one or two years after gaining independence due to disruption of economic ties among them. Time is needed for this.

I am glad that our countries, which gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, have passed a long road in ten years. It is clearly seen in examples of both former soviet republics and Eastern European countries present here that lived under socialist economy and communist ideology although they have not been within the Soviet Union. An advantage of the Eastern European countries was their independence, which we did not have. But they, like us, lived in conditions of communist ideology, socialist economy, in general under conditions demanded by socialism. That is why there is not a great difference, but it exists though. I can say about our countries that had made parts of the Soviet Union and, if to speak of a military alliance, of the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance, member states of Warsaw Treaty, we move along the same road. I think that we have made a long trip during this period in Azerbaijan.

If to take into consideration the state of war in Azerbaijan with Armenia, occupation a part of territory of Azerbaijan by Armenia even in the period when we were within the Soviet Union and occupation of overall 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory by the Armenian armed forces as a result of further military operations and expulsion of more than one million of Azerbaijanis from those territories, you may see, in which conditions we build our independent state and implement reforms. Azerbaijan was in a state of a military conflict, and still is. It is true, there is no military operation now. Due to all this, internal situation in Azerbaijan had become very complicated. Power had changed and there were coup attempts several times etc., That is why, although we gained our independence in late 1991, actually we started to develop our economy, improve of life conditions and implement reforms from 1995 normally. From 1991 to 1995, I mean late 1995 and early 1996 were very hard time for us. We had to stop the war and we did it. We had to disarm illegal armed gangs who were serving to one or another political groups struggling for power. We disrupted several coup attempts, especially an attempt of terror to kill the president of Azerbaijan. We could do all this. The most important is that we could preserve the independence of our state. This is the most important thing. The independence of Azerbaijan was facing serious threats in those years. We passed through this period. You see a good, quiet socio-political situation in Azerbaijan now. Probably you had an opportunity to see the city in these days and you could walk in Baku in the evening, even at night. Nevertheless, there was a time when nobody could get out of his apartment, because there were many illegal armed gangs and by carrying guns and pistols etc., they were committing crimes.

In the past years, we could implement reforms and attract a lot of investment, especially to our energy sector. We could establish economic ties with a number of oil companies. Now, there are 32 big companies that take part in exploration in the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian Sea. All this and reconstruction of the economy allowed us to revive it and to make grow GDP, industry and agriculture. For example, we conduct privatization successfully. We have implemented a land reform and almost distributed all the lands to the farmers. 98 percent production in agriculture comes from the private sector now. We are not busy with cultivation and collection of cotton and grape.

I say this, because in the past, I have been the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan and was busy with this. How to seed, collect the crop, how many eggs to take from one hen, probably you remember all this, because, you have lived in the Soviet Union. Now people have already got used to private property. Especially, in rural areas, because they have received lands. The number of cattle and production in agriculture have grown. Of course, production of some irrelevant goods dropped due to lack of market. For example, during the Soviets, we were buying meat and milk from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Now we don`t have such problem. We do have enough cattle. We can even export that.

But we have one million refugees and majority of them live in tents. It is a very heavy burden for us. Have we had our occupied territories 7-8 years ago at disposal of those people, we would achieve bigger results. First, we cannot use those lands. Second, those who have been expelled from those territories cannot work as they want, because they don`t have suitable conditions. Hence, they live in tents.

Despite this, construction works are under way. For example, buildings are being constructed in Baku not by us, but by private sector. Besides, situation has changed. Before, we were building many apartment houses and distributing them to people free. Now, we don`t have such opportunity. Second, it is a market economy. But it is significant that foreign investors, as well as local businessmen invest in 12 or 14 store buildings and they are being purchased. People buy them.

Sometimes, I think that indeed, economic situation and welfare of the people are not at sufficient level. This is certainly like that. We do have people too. We prepare a joint program of reducing poverty with the UN. We have many unemployed people. The reason is that big industry does not work in its full capacity, but by 20 percent of this. Once a tube-rolling mill with 10 thousands of employees now has a thousand of it. You can see a big difference. Most of them are unemployed. Undoubtedly, all this creates a social tension.

Despite this, we have opened a way for private business and follow the way of the market economy. We have our business people, owners appeared and they have their means, they do business, build houses and already started to build some industrial establishments. I must say that they are very good, modern establishments. But we need time to carry out tasks which we put before us. Our goal is that our independent state must meet demands of poor population, all the citizens, and develop to the level of the economically advanced countries.

From this point of view, we do well in our energy sector. There are foreign companies working in this sphere. First, they are numerous here and every company employs many of Azerbaijanis. Second, there are initial results. We produce oil due to joint agreements, sell it and make profit. We have built Baku-Supsa pipeline to Georgia. It connects our friendly republics. We have already completed all works and soon will start the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. Ceyhan is a port in Turkey, at the Mediterranean coast. The length of the pipeline is approximately 2000 km. 50-60 millions ton of oil will be pumped via this pipeline annually. Certainly, a great benefit will be taken from it. Time is needed for this, but perspectives are good. Our Chamber of Commerce and Industry and an English company jointly hold oil and gas exhibition every year here. I was told that many appeals have been submitted for participation. How many companies are there?

Suleyman Tatliyev: Nearly 300 companies from 15 countries.

Heydar Aliyev: We hold this exhibition every June of a year. This is an international exhibition in which many countries take part and a number of oil and gas companies demonstrate their works. This is a great event. That is why I guess we have good future. We have results for today, but I would like them to be more.

 Economic integration is very important. Chambers of commerce and industry could do more for one country to take profit from its economic ties with another, and naturally, for improvement of its own economic situation. That is why your coming together here, exchanging of views, and meeting each other are very important. It is very significant for me because you became familiar with our republic and city. It is an important event. I am very glad for this and wish you successes. Second, I wish more broadening of ties among the chambers of commerce and industry from countries which are represented here. Third, I wish them overcome hardships posed by the transition period and stand firm on their feet and. I think every country that is represented here has opportunities for this.

It was told about the Great Silk Road here. This is really a program of paramount importance. Because, the Great Silk Road had played an enormous role in the Middle Ages. Now, in the period when the European Union engaged with this and launched TRASECA program and a program by all of us for restoration of the Great Silk Road, we know what results it has yielded. A delegate from Uzbekistan made a speech and spoke about shortening the way and drop in expenses of transportation for them as a result of this. They already carry their cargos via this road.

This is just the beginning. In 1988 we held here the first international conference on restoration of the Great Silk Road. 32 countries from Japan and Chine to Spain in Europe were represented in the conference. 15 international organizations signed an agreement and this organization has a permanent secretariat based in Baku. It is also a program with a great perspective. By the way, I see here representatives from Romania, Bulgaria and from other countries. Bulgarian and Romanian presidents were also present here. We held that conference together.

In brief, great opportunities opened. We must be active to use those opportunities in an efficient way. I wish you good health. Please, convey my best regards to your peoples, and presidents of your countries. Thank you for the meeting. Good bye.