President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has chaired a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers dedicated to results of socio-economic development in the nine months of 2018 and objectives for the future.
The head of state made an opening speech.
Opening speech of President Ilham Aliyev
– Today we will discuss the results of nine months of the year and talk about the work to be done until the end of the year. I must say that 2018 was a successful year for our country. All the tasks we have set ourselves since the beginning of the year have been fulfilled successfully and on time. Azerbaijan has registered dynamic development in 2018, and our country has lived in the conditions of peace, stability and security.
Given the current situation in the world, we must note that stability and security are among the key factors for any country today. Security, calm and stability are protected and strengthened in Azerbaijan. Our stability and successful development is underpinned by a -thought-out policy, as well as the popular support for our policy. The situation in the world and in our region in particular remains tense, as new centers of confrontation and conflict are emerging. Unfortunately, the tensions which emerged in previous years is still there. Under such circumstances, of course, we must protect ourselves even more seriously against possible external risks, and we are doing that. I want to note again: there are no sources of internal risks in Azerbaijan, and we are protecting and will continue to protect ourselves from possible threats by our policies and hard work. We are providing and will continue to provide for the security of the Azerbaijani people.
Many steps are being taken in this direction, including those related to foreign policy. I can say that the international positions of Azerbaijan were further reinforced in 2018. I have had numerous meetings with colleagues in both bilateral and multilateral formats. Over the course of nine months, I have paid 12 foreign visits and 15 heads of state and government have visited Azerbaijan. This indicates that Azerbaijan pursues a very flexible and multi-vector foreign policy. The agreements reached in a bilateral format are being implemented. Azerbaijan is known in the world as a reliable partner, we enjoy trust because our words do not contradict our deeds.
I believe that this year our relations with neighboring countries have risen to a new level this year. I have had numerous meetings with heads of state and government of neighboring countries. The agreements reached have strengthened our bilateral relations and also serve the development of stability, security and cooperation in the region. As always, our relations with Muslim countries are in the spotlight. This is one of the priority issues of our foreign policy. Azerbaijan is an active and authoritative member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. We demonstrate and promote Islamic solidarity in all international organizations and at international events. It is no coincidence that last year was declared a “Year of Islamic Solidarity” in Azerbaijan. Our work towards strengthening unity and solidarity in Azerbaijan and in the Islamic world is highly valued in the Muslim world. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation is giving a high assessment to our work. We will continue our efforts in this direction. It is no coincidence that Nakhchivan has been the second Azerbaijani city after Baku to have been awarded the title of the Capital of Islamic Culture this year. We perceive and view this as a manifestation of the entire Muslim world’s respect for us. At the same time, this decision, of course, is associated with the positive role we are playing in the Islamic world, and we will continue our efforts in this direction. We will also continue our efforts to strengthen solidarity and unity in the Islamic world. At the same time, we will continue to take steps to communicate Islamic values to the world. As you know, numerous events related to multiculturalism have been held in Azerbaijan. Our efforts are highly appreciated both in the Islamic world and in Europe. They are producing excellent results.
In addition, we have participated in a number of important international events this year. Among them I would like to specifically note the adoption of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. I think this is a historic document which fully reflects the national interests of Azerbaijan. Five Caspian littoral countries have come to an agreement after lengthy negotiations. This shows that this Convention ensures the interests of all countries. I believe that this is a very important and serious legal document for the development of the region and for the expansion of economic opportunities.
This year Azerbaijan has hosted a major conference of the Foreign Ministers of the Non-Aligned Movement. Azerbaijan carries out successful activities in this organization and will chair the Non-Aligned Movement, one of the largest organizations in the world, from next year. A Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement will be held in Baku.
We have taken another serious step this year to develop ties with the European Union. The Partnership Priorities document was signed between the European Union and Azerbaijan this summer, and I believe that this is a very important step and an important document. It reflects many significant issues. This includes provisions related to the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – they are fair and fully express our position and interests. This document states that the European Union supports the sovereignty, inviolability of borders and the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. At the same time, a declaration adopted at the end of the NATO Summit once again expressed support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. All these documents further strengthen our position on the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. There is already a sufficiently broad legal framework for resolving the conflict, but the new steps, in particular, the decisions and resolutions of influential international organizations related to the sovereignty, inviolability of borders, the territorial integrity of our country further strengthen our position.
The public is informed about the current stage of the negotiations related to the conflict. The Armenian side’s attempts have not produced any result and the format of negotiations related to the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict remains unchanged. These negotiations were, are and should be conducted between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is proved by the two meetings of foreign ministers of the two countries. Recent events show that the format of negotiations remains unchanged and this conflict must soon be resolved on the basis of the norms and principles of international law, within the framework of the territorial integrity of our country. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan has never been, is not and never will be the subject of negotiations. Therefore, we will continue to adhere to our position of principle. I hope that the new leadership of Armenia demonstrates a constructive approach and our lands are soon freed from occupiers.
Along with this, of course, we are building up and will continue to build up our military power. The Azerbaijani army is among 50 strongest armies on a global scale. This is confirmed by international ratings, by real life and by our military successes. At the same time, two grand military parades have been held in Baku this year, and our military might was demonstrated to the people of Azerbaijan and the whole world. The Azerbaijani army today is fully equipped with the most modern weapons and hardware. This process continues. We will continue to acquire the most sophisticated military equipment. New contracts are being signed. On the basis of the contracts signed in previous years, the most modern weaponry is delivered to our country. Some of it was shown in the military parades and some wasn’t. It is possible to say that we have fully secured our military potential in terms of material and technical capacity. From now onwards, we intend to acquire only the most modern hardware and weaponry, and the number of countries interested in selling this equipment us is growing. There are no difficulties with that already. Compared to previous years, we can now make a choice and are not bound by any one supplier. This is why we are purchasing military products from many countries today. The third defense industry exhibition was successfully held in Baku this year. Many leading companies have demonstrated their products. Azerbaijan showed its military and technical capacity. We are successfully developing in the production of military equipment. Azerbaijan produces military products for more than a thousand items. We have new plans related to the production of military equipment and ammunition, and we will implement them. In short, the military potential of our country is at the highest level today. The combat capability of our army is also at a high level. Our army has demonstrated that on the battlefield.
Of course, for all our plans to be implemented, the economy must develop successfully, and consistent steps are being taken in this direction. If we did not have strong economic opportunities, none of our plans could be realized. Our economy secures our political interests. Economic independence allows us the opportunity to pursue an independent policy on the international plane. If we depended on anyone economically, then these opportunities could be limited but we are not dependent on anyone economically. I think this is our historic achievement.
At the same time, very important steps were taken in 2018 to deepen economic reforms. I believe that the figures for nine months of this year suggest that we are achieving what we want. As for our economic indicators, I can say that in the first nine months of this year our economy, i.e. the gross domestic product, has increased by 0.8 per cent. Growth in the non-oil sector is 1 per cent. Industrial production has increased by 2 per cent and non-oil industry by 10.8 per cent. This indicator is the result of the industrialization policy we have pursued.
As you know, a lot of attention has been paid to the development of agriculture in recent years, in particular to increasing employment in the regions. Extensive support has been provided. We see consistent growth in agriculture. I do hope that this growth becomes even greater in the coming years. Growth in agriculture was 4.3 per cent in the first nine months of the year. I think this is also a pretty good indicator.
Inflation is only at 2.6 per cent and growth in population incomes constitutes 9.5 per cent. In other words, revenues exceed inflation. The low level of inflation and its further decline during the year show that our financial situation is very stable and macroeconomic situation is strong.
A total of 9 billion dollars was invested in the country’s economy in the first nine months of this year. It is gratifying that 5.6 billion dollars of these funds were invested in the non-oil sector. This will serve to further diversify our economy.
Our foreign exchange reserves are growing. They have reached 45 billion dollars. Since the beginning of the year, we have additionally saved up 3 billion dollars. This shows again that we treat our funds very economically. We are addressing the important issues facing the country, implementing investment and infrastructure projects, resolving social issues and, at the same time, increasing our reserves. I am sure that they will grow even more before the end of the year. This is a very important factor for our further successful development.
Foreign trade turnover has grown by 37 per cent in the first nine months. Exports have increased by about as much. This is also a very positive fact. Non-oil exports have increased by about 14 per cent. I think this is also an excellent indicator. In the first nine months of this year, 85,000 permanent jobs have been created in our country.
Such are the key indicators of our socioeconomic development. Any influential international financial structure seeing such results can come only to one conclusion: the economy of Azerbaijan is developing successfully. Azerbaijan is pursuing a thought-out economic policy. There are no serious problems in store for the economy of Azerbaijan in the future. We simply need to continue reforms in this area. We will talk about that today so that we can make the most of our economic potential.
Of course, as I have already noted, the increase of local production is one of the most important factors for the successful development of our country. Numerous projects are being implemented in this direction with the support of the state. This includes the creation of gigantic enterprises with direct financial support of the state. For example, I believe that the opening of a propylene plant this year is a very significant event. The President of Italy attended the opening ceremony of this plant together with me. The second SOCAR Polymer project, a high-density polyethylene plant, will also be commissioned by the end of the year. The volume of investment in these plants exceeds 800 million dollars. Of course, these plants will be of great importance for the development of our non-oil industry. Our country will begin to receive a large amount of currency. A nitrogen fertilizer plant should be commissioned by the end of the year. The amount of investment there also amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Star Refinery will be commissioned in Turkey in the near future. We have invested heavily in this plant – more than 6 billion dollars. We will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from there every year. So investments made both domestically and abroad will bring us greater benefits in the future and contribute to the sustainable development of our country. Many industrial enterprises have been opened this year, and this process will be continued.
2018 was an important year for the development of our energy policy. In May of this year, we celebrated the official opening of the Southern Gas Corridor in Baku. This is a historic event. A month later, we celebrated the opening of the TANAP project in Turkey, and the Southern Gas Corridor project is being successfully implemented. All these four projects have produced excellent results. This year we will increase gas production. Gas is already coming from Shah Deniz-2. Its volume will increase even more next year and beyond. So we are doing everything possible to fully achieve the goal and, according to the latest data provided to me, there are also no problems with the implementation of the TAP project, which is the final part of the Southern Gas Corridor.
The successful completion of the Southern Gas Corridor will open up new opportunities, new horizons for us. We will access the markets of many countries with our resources. Then, taking this into account, we can implement new infrastructure projects in these countries. Negotiations are still under way, so I don’t want to say anything in advance. However, I think that we would want to remain not just a country that supplies gas to other countries, but also to manage the gas industry after that. This will further increase the efficiency and revenues, will lead to the creation of a new infrastructure in the countries we will work in.
Of course, while speaking about the results of the nine months of the year, it is necessary to note the Alat international trade seaport. It is also a historic project, the largest port on the Caspian Sea. The port was commissioned in May. Thus, an infrastructure project very important for the successful operation of the East-West transport corridor has been implemented. After that, of course, we will expand our transit capabilities. We are now heavily involved not only in the East-West, but also in the North-South transport corridors. The volume of cargo carried along this corridor is on the increase. I have already mentioned this figure but I want to say it again that the volume of cargo transported through the territory of Azerbaijan along the North-South transport corridor has increased more than a hundred times since the beginning of the year. And this is only a beginning. We are currently conducting very serious negotiations with partner countries for the full implementation of this project. Azerbaijan has the technical expertise, specialists and financial resources. We have done all the work on the territory of Azerbaijan ourselves. We can also deploy our financial capabilities in other places so that this corridor works at full capacity and brings additional currency to our country. That is our main goal. Of course, both political weight and political opportunities of transit countries are growing. The role of these countries in the development of cooperation in the region is increasing. We want our role to grow. We want Azerbaijan to be reckoned with. We want more to depend on Azerbaijan, and we are achieving this.
The events taking place in the region, the huge energy and transport projects being implemented on our initiative, the work we are carrying out in other areas have significantly increased our political weight. Azerbaijan today is a country enjoying great international respect and authority – not only because of the opportunities we have created, but also, perhaps even most importantly, because our words do not contradict our deeds. We are pursuing a policy of principle. We demonstrate our position on all issues of principle, adequately ensure the national interests of our country and will continue to follow this path.