Like other oil-producing states, Azerbaijan is looking to diversify its economy.

While economic ties between Baku and Jerusalem are strong, the coronavirus has led to a decrease in bilateral trade following a $1.4 billion high in 2019. Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Azerbaijan’s Economy Minister Mikayil Jabbarov are set to discuss kick-starting bilateral trade in a meeting of the Israel-Azerbaijan intergovernmental committee to be held next week.

In an interview from his bureau office in Baku, Jabbarov said, “Israel remains Azerbaijan’s third-largest export destination. It’s no secret that the oil and gas fields are taking a central place in bilateral trade, but I want it to expand even more.”
According to Jabbarov, officials in Baku have decided to establish an Azerbaijani tourism bureau in Israel.
Q: In what fields are you interested in expanding trade?

A: Tourism, agriculture and agrotech in particular. I would also like for us to cooperate in the fields of cyber defense, education, water resources and health. … We’re interested in renewing the activity of the forum for bilateral economic cooperation that was established in 2019 and quickly had a positive impact. The opening of a tourism bureau in Israel would send an important message. Likewise, in the field of technology, we’re interested in further improving ties with Israel.

Q: How do you intend to expand trade?

A: We can often give businesses a push, but that’s harder to do without removing red tape. In the private sector, ties are quickly growing stronger. Likewise, we even hope to open a trade bureau in Israel next year.

Q: How often are you in touch with Israeli government ministries?

A: We hold frequent talks on the professional level, and we have very good ties. Our collaboration with the Israeli Embassy in Baku is excellent. We also maintain ties with various ministries in Israel.

Q: How do you explain Azerbaijan’s special bond with the Jewish community?

A: We have lived together for hundreds of years, and Azerbaijan’s values are built on respect for every religion and every ethnic group. The secret is simple: We believe every ethnic group living in Azerbaijan is part of our society. This is a relationship that is based on a history in which we lived together, a culture of not harming one another, respecting one another, having fun together, and dealing with crises, celebrating religious holidays, fighting side by side, without exception.

Azerbaijan is a relatively young country, but we have a long history. [Azerbaijani] President Ilham Aliyev really looks out for the Jewish community, just as he looks out for all the minority groups in the country.

Azerbaijan is set to mark 30 years to its independence and 30 years to its Israel ties next year.

“My job is to always aspire to improve ties, and that is what I will do in this special year. We will do everything to open an Azerbaijani trade bureau in Israel and further deepen ties,” said Jabbarov.

Jabbarov, who noted he has visited Israel a few times, on both personal and official trips, said, “I think Israel has exceptional qualities. There is a great deal of respect for studies, research, and hard work. There is critical thinking. These are qualities that transform Israel from a young state to one with a quality economy, with a high gross domestic product, and extensive higher education.”

The Azerbaijani government has also been impressed with Israel’s vaccination campaign, which has earned global accolades.

“We’re fairly confident Israel’s successful campaign can be replicated in Azerbaijan,” said Jabbarov.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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