In an exclusive interview with the Azeri Observer Magazine, Chargé d’affaires of the Republic of Chile to Baku, Mr. Gabriel Jara Maldonado speaks about the interest of his country for opening an embassy in Azerbaijan, to strengthen the ties of cooperation between both countries, as well as the advances reached in the bilateral relations so far. He also touches upon the prospects of cooperation within the international organizations and future events, which would help to build more contacts between the two countries.
BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
The embassy of Chile was
opened in Baku
about one year ago. What are the main reasons for opening an embassy in a rather distant country
What has been done since its opening? What do you consider the main
achievements in this period?
Answer: An initial attempt to open an embassy took place in February 2014, when I had the opportunity to visit Baku for the first time. However, the decision was postponed until 2018. Then, the government of Chile honored me with the responsibility to install and launch the Embassy, which was officially opened in December 2018. Chile is located in the most extreme corner of the South American continent, but despite being a small country, it has undergone vigorous developments in the recent decades, opened its economy to the world and signed 26 free trade agreements with almost 60 states, including China, USA, the EU countries, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, just to mention a few of them. The cooperation with the aforementioned countries shows that distance has never inhibited the pursuit for business partners and the expansion of Chile’s international relations, because as I said, Chile is a very open nation.
Therefore, it is not surprising that now Chile wants to further explore the Caucasus region, of which we have had only little knowledge. On the other hand, Azerbaijan is a country that has begun to shine with its own light and has proved to be an attractive enclave for Chile. Opening an embassy has never been a simple task, however I can say with satisfaction that within quite a reasonable short period of time, the embassy has been properly installed and is almost completely operative. On the other hand, with the arrival of the Chilean Embassy in Baku, all the four members of the Pacific Alliance (PA), consisting of Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Chile – which has proven to be the most successful South American integration association – finally established their representations in the capital of Azerbaijan. This achievement gave an additional boost to the Pacific Alliance, which allows it to project itself in this region of Eurasia. In May 2019, Azerbaijan joined the PA as an observer country, which expands the space of its cooperation with South America and creates a platform for the projection of its image in a continent that gathers 600 million inhabitants.
In addition, I cannot fail to mention the signing of basic agreements that will allow moreaffluent bilateral ties, including a visa exemption agreement for diplomatic, service and official passport holders. This is the first step that could be followed by a similar agreement related to ordinary passport holders, which will undoubtedly favor the exchange of tourist streams. However, the achievement that satisfied me the most is the development of cooperation in the sphere of innovations. For example, currently two young Azerbaijani entrepreneurs are developing their own innovation project in Chile under the Start Up Chile program. This has been the first step to explore a joint work area with Azerbaijan, which is favored by a convergence of interests of both countries with good prospects. We were also happy to contribute to the participation of a representative of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry in the International Course, annually hosted by the Diplomatic Academy of Chile. This exchange of diplomats will help to enhance the reciprocal knowledge of both countries. Another aspect, which is pleasant for me to note, is the work of Azerbaijani Professor Shahriyar Nasirov at the Adolfo Ibañez University in Santiago, in the area of renewable energy. This area is of special interest to Chile, and Professor Nasirov has made important contributions to it, especially in the field of the applicable legal framework.
Q.: Last year Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov paid an official visit to the Republic of Chile. How did it contribute to the development of bilateral relations?
A.: Indeed, Minister Mammadyarov paid an official visit to Chile in March 2019 and also participated in the Summit Meeting of the Pacific Alliance in Peru in July 2019. These visits are very welcomed, since nothing strengthens bilateral ties as much as personal contacts between the main authorities. The visit of Minister Mammadyarov took place a few months before the Summit of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), whose presidency Azerbaijan assumed last October. During the meeting with the Azerbaijani counterpart, the Chilean Foreign Minister expressed the determination for intensive collaboration with Azerbaijan within its presidency, in order to recover its place and power affected during the past presidency of Venezuela. Chile is optimistic that the NAM will regain the hierarchy and the level that corresponds with it, and we are sure that Azerbaijan will put forward its best efforts.
Q.: Is a return visit of the Chilean Foreign Minister expected in the near future? Are any other high level visits scheduled for 2020?
A.: As I said before, Chile and Azerbaijan are building a bilateral agenda, and in this context a high-level visit cannot be ruled out. It would be appropriate to hold the second round of Azerbaijan-Chile political consultations in 2020, whose first round took place in Santiago in 2018. We hope that a high representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Chile may attend the gathering on the invitation of Azerbaijan. I also want to mention that the Embassy – in my charge – is working on a project to coordinate bilateral efforts in the field of innovation; a task which will include the visit of a delegation of representatives of the Start Up Chile Program and from the Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation to Baku. We hope that it will take place towards the end of the year, and allow us to exchange experiences and design cooperation projects that will bring benefits to entrepreneurs in both countries.
Q.: Could you tell us about current economic and trade cooperation between our countries? How does the bilateral turnover change year over year? What are the main trade products?
A.: The current low volume of bilateral trade existing between our two countries does not reflect future potential. The commercial exchange figures can be explained by the lack of knowledge of each other’s markets and export products, beside the fact that Chile has a very dynamic economy. Azerbaijan is a rather small market, but taking into account the efforts of the Azerbaijani government, it can become a hub for reaching other countries of the region from here. We have a great challenge ahead to increase bilateral trade and there are attractive opportunities for this. For example, in October 2020 Chilean entrepreneurs and businesspersons will take part in the World Expo in Dubai, which will bring together about 140 countries. This will undoubtedly be a good opportunity to approach Chile and its exports without going to South America; the Chilean Pavilion in Dubai will serve that purpose. Regarding the products that are traded, they have not been very diverse so far, but Chile has become well known for its exports of wine, fruit in a wide variety as well as sea food, such as salmon (fresh salmon fillet), crabs, king crab, oysters, mollusks and crustaceans. Chile is a country that has unique characteristics, surrounded by natural barriers (Atacama Desert in the north, Andes mountain range in the east, Pacific Ocean in the west and ice in the south), along with a cold ocean current, which results in a great diversity of climates that are expressed in numerous types of crops. Likewise, the country has strict sanitary regulations and a policy open to the world on the development of organic production. We are one of the most important suppliers of quality food in the southern hemisphere and one of the main players in the world food industry. Our country has geographical, climatic and human characteristics that have granted a unique character and incomparable conditions for the production of quality food and attributes appreciated in the whole world. Today, we have become the world’s leading exporters of fresh grapes, fresh blueberries, salmon fillets; the second in frozen raspberries and dehydrated plums; and third parties in raisins, nuts and frozen horse mackerel. We are known for being the country that has the largest number of free trade agreements in the world, which allows us to access 83% of the world’s GDP exempt from tariffs.
From Azerbaijan you have products such as oil and its derivatives, natural gas and nuts. As you see, there is a lot of space to grow.
Q.: Do you see interest in bilateral tourism cooperation?
A.: The tourism industry has proven to be very dynamic in Chile, and now the number of visitors is around 6 million per year. This is an area that demands special cooperation between the two countries, precisely because of the distance that separate us. Right now Turkish Airlines and Emirates are serving flights from Baku to South America with connections in Istanbul and Dubai respectively. We would like to see LATAM, which is the largest airline company in South America, to reach Baku in the future. Chile as well as Azerbaijan is an attractive destination with its own particularities and charm which is worth discovering.
Q.: What are the most promising areas for future economic cooperation?
A.: It is difficult to answer such a question now, because, a lot of it depends on our bilateral relations. However, I believe in the new possibilities that modern technology has to offer and new innovation is always promising. I believe that both countries have much to learn from each other, and this is an activity that would decisively link our new generation. The bilateral relations between Chile and Azerbaijan have strengthened with the opening of their respective embassies in Santiago and Baku precisely in the 21st century. Therefore, innovation will undoubtedly be the focus of our future cooperation. Besides, I believe that Chile, which has made interesting developments in its agro-food industry, can also share its advances in agriculture with Azerbaijan.
Q.: As you mentioned, last year Azerbaijan received observer status in the Pacific Alliance. How will it help in the development of cooperation between Azerbaijan and this organization, and Chile in particular?
A.: The Pacific Alliance has been the most successful commercial integration platform in South America during the last 8 years since its creation. During this period, many countries have followed its evolution with an increasing interest, and have expressed their intention to integrate as observers. Now there are 57 countries with observer status, and Azerbaijan is one of them. The Pacific Alliance envisages various programs for cooperation, which constitute a robust platform available to Azerbaijan to project its potential in the South American region, especially in the areas where the four countries, i.e. Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru, offer special opportunities. In the case of Chile, this is especially valid for the areas of culture, tourism, technology and the digital agenda, as well as agribusiness, etc.
Q.: Tell our readers about cultural and humanitarian cooperation between our countries. What measures does the embassy take in this sphere?
A.: We are starting to boost our bilateral relations, especially the exchange of information between our two countries. In this way, promoting cultural and sports exchanges is a real priority for this Embassy. That is why the Embassy has provided all possible assistance to facilitate, for example, the participation of an Azerbaijani delegation in a Karate tournament, which took place in Santiago in October 2019. We have also promoted the exchanges that made possible the participation of an Azerbaijani diplomat in the International Course of the Diplomatic Academy of Chile, and of Azerbaijani entrepreneurs in the Start Up Chile program. I have made a serious effort to ensure the continuous growth in this field in the years to come.
Q.: What main facts about Chile would you like to tell our audience?
A.: Chile is a very faraway and small country, which has gone through difficulties like any other country, but has managed to overcome them, emerging stronger from each episode such as natural disasters, political crises and more recently, a period of social unrest which is being handled by the current authorities. Crises are always an opportunity for growth, change and institutional strengthening, which have characterized the evolution of Chile in the recent decades. The agreements reached in front of the current situation will allow us to properly face the actual challenges that threaten the planet, such as climate change and the need to preserve the environment and resources for future generations. Chile is currently developing its resources to face these challenges.
Q: What did you know about Azerbaijan before your appointment to Baku? How did your opinion change after coming here?
A: As I said, I was fortunate to visit Azerbaijan for the first time in 2014, with the intention to open an Embassy of Chile, which materialized only in December 2018. Therefore, I was able to visit this attractive Caucasus country twice. The first time I had just superficial knowledge. However, after a year and a half of permanence in Baku, I have had the opportunity to dive more deeply into the fascinating cultural diversity and understand its friendly people. During the period of my service in Azerbaijan and now when I am ready to end my mission, I have felt the empathy of the noble Azerbaijani people, and seen their generosity and creative capacities, which augur their promising future. I hope to return to see it with my own eyes.