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On May 30, the United States-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce (USACC) held a Congressional briefing on U.S.-Azerbaijan energy ties, trade and development on Capitol Hill. The briefing brought together members of U.S. Congress, senior U.S officials, top executives of large multinational companies and representatives of Azerbaijani government, staffers of offices of 22 congressmen as well as representatives of greater Washington's business community with the purpose of highlighting the importance of expanded energy, trade and business relations between the United States and Azerbaijan.
The event started with the opening remarks of Susan Sadigova, the Executive Director of USACC who welcomed the participants of the briefing and underlined the significance of growing business relations between the two countries. She noted that the briefing is held at a time when Azerbaijan was one of the fastest growing economies in the world developing its non-oil sectors of economy. Ms. Sadigova who moderated the first panel of the briefing, titled "U.S.-Azerbaijan Partnership: Importance of Accelerated and Expanded Trade and Business Ties", then presented Elin Suleymanov, Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the United States who thanked the USACC for organizing the event and remaining an organization which traditionally brought businesses of the two countries together.
In his speech, Elin Suleymanov stressed that the relationship between the United States and Azerbaijan is one based on strategic understanding of mutual interests and based on understanding of what is good to the region. He noted that the best example of the cooperation is Baku-Tbisili-Ceyhan (BTC) project backed by the United States. The diplomat stated that BTC was the successful outcome of the Contract of the Century signed on September 20, 1994 and underlined the role of the leadership of Azerbaijan, and namely President Heydar Aliyev in ensuring this single largest investment in the former Soviet Union. Based on that foundation, Azerbaijan had signed multiple PSA agreements and kept developing its economy, and on December 17, 2013 it signed the Final Investment Decision (FID) for investment of up to $45 billion in Southern Gas Corridor project which consists of three pipelines that will transport Azerbaijani gas to the European markets. Apart from the energy collaboration, the ambassador also stressed the importance of growing transportation sector of Azerbaijan and its importance for the allies, specifically the role of Azerbaijan as part of Northern Distribution Network (NDN). He noted that Azerbaijan has recently been granted Category 1 rating from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which permits Azerbaijani air carriers to initiate direct flights to the U.S. E.Suleymanov then underlined the role of AZAL and Silkway Airlines in developing Azerbaijan as a regional transportation hub that immensely contributes to regional development. He also underlined the role of AzPROMO representative office in the United States which imports Azerbaijani-made products into U.S.; and USACC for boosting closer cooperation between Azerbaijan and the United States in the IT sector.
The next speaker, Matthew Murray, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at the U.S. Department of Commerce congratulated the Azerbaijani people with the Republic Day and delivered remarks on the current state of economic relations between the United States and Azerbaijan. He said that the economic relationship between the two countries was in the neighborhood of $2 billion and while the energy cooperation is important, there are vast opportunities in other sectors of economy where both countries should foster closer engagement. For instance, stated the Deputy Assistant Secretary, the year 2014 is declared by Azerbaijani government as the Year of Industry which opens up potential for involvement of American companies in this sector. He said that the Department of Commerce jointly with USACC will be holding a number of events throughout the United States to educate U.S. manufacturers about the vast opportunities presented by Azerbaijani market. Mr. Murray noted that U.S. companies might also participate in providing services during the first European Olympics Games to be held in 2015 and stated that one U.S. company, Procter & Gamble is already a co-sponsor of the event. He also pledged support to Azerbaijan in diversification efforts, namely developing transportation sector to transform it into a transportation hub, the agricultural and IT sectors and further cooperation with AzerCosmos.
Taking the stage next was Congressman Robert Aderholt who welcomed the warm and expanding relationship between the United States and Azerbaijan. He stated that Azerbaijan is a key ally of the United States in the region. "The U.S. views Azerbaijan as a strategic partner", noted the congressman, underlining the importance of Azerbaijan as an alternative source for energy for European allies. As a member of Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies of the House of Representatives and member of Congress from Alabama, where chemical industry plays an important role in the economy of the state, Congressman Aderholt recognized the significance of development of Azerbaijan's chemical industry and expressed willingness to see American chemical companies explore vast opportunities in Azerbaijan.
The second panel, titled "Business Prospects: Testimonies of Successful Companies", was moderated by Greg Saunders, Senior Director, International Affairs, BP, who gave a brief background into the developments in energy sector in Azerbaijan, specifically expansion of activities in Shah Deniz gas field.
He then introduced Jan Karl Karlsen, Vice President, U.S. Government Affairs at Statoil, to the audience. Speaking about the history of development and globalization of Statoil, Mr. Karlsen said that entry into the Azerbaijani market in 1992 was one of the early steps of this endeavor for his company. The Azerbaijani market yields 5% of Statoil's global output which makes it a significant country. "We are very pleased to be part of the next chapter of the Azeri energy story," stated the representative of Statoil speaking of the development of Shah Deniz Stage II and Azerbaijan's contribution to the energy security of Europe.
Next speaker, Rauf Mammadov, Director of SOCAR USA, gave the audience background of Azerbaijan's state oil company and more than 29 PSA agreements and joint ventures signed by the company with international partners. Mr. Mammadov stated that all PSA agreements had been ratified by the Azerbaijani parliament and since the signing of these documents, not a single change was made to their content, showing the significance of Azerbaijan as a reliable partner in energy sector. Speaking of realization of BTC project, he also mentioned that Azerbaijan has now increased its oil exports to Israel through the pipeline, making up at least 40% of Israel's oil imports. Director of SOCAR USA then talked about acquisitions and construction of infrastructures in Georgia, Turkey and Greece and provided details of his company's business in downstream activities, including large investments in Romania, Ukraine and Switzerland.
R.Mammadov was followed by Martin Bentrott, Senior Vice President of Boeing who spoke about his company's business relationship with Azerbaijan as well as Baku's investments in the airline industry, including purchasing of new aircrafts, expanding its international airports, training of its personnel and developing its air-transport network.
Next speaker, Cliff Cummings, Vice President for Business Development at Orbital Sciences, told the audience about the project of launching of the first commercial satellite of Azerbaijan. He stated that launching of the first satellite is significant not only for Azerbaijan, but for countries of Caucasus, Europe and Africa for which it is a regional operator.
General Roosevelt Mercer Jr., Vice President for Government, Commercial and International Initiatives at Exelis, who took the stage next, provided details about his company's business and expressed willingness in exploring opportunities in Azerbaijan's growing space industry. He especially stressed the importance of more involvement from U.S. government in supporting U.S. businesses wishing to work with Azerbaijan.
The final speaker Dorothy Dwoskin, Senior Director for Global Trade Policy and Strategy at Microsoft, told the participants of the briefing about Microsoft's activities and presence since 2005, when the company started providing services to the government of Azerbaijan. She stated that what represents Azerbaijan is vast potential for business. In conclusion, she listed the rankings of Azerbaijan for business opportunities, underlining the importance of the country as for Microsoft's business as for other companies seeking business in developing markets.
Answering the questions of the audience and as a conclusion, the companies stressed the importance of more involvement, support and encouragement from U.S. government and administration offices in expanding business and trade ties with Azerbaijan.
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