In an interview for Azeri Observer, Qatari Ambassador to Baku, Mr. Faisal bin Abdullah Al-Hanzab, speaks about his country’s priorities in foreign policy, mutual interest to develop bilateral trade, economic and investment relations and the plans to hold a business forum to intensify cooperation. He also talks about the rivalry between the two countries in the oil and gas sphere and prospects of tourism exchange in the post-pandemic era. He also shares his impressions from his life in Azerbaijan and explains what similarities he sees here with his home country.
BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: Several years ago, we witnessed the Gulf crisis in the Middle East. Is it fair to say that it is now over? How has it changed Qatar’s foreign policy?
Answer: Yes, it can be said that the Gulf crisis ended completely after the Al-Ula agreement in Saudi Arabia. The main pillar of the State of Qatar’s foreign policy now calls for diplomacy and is keen to demonstrate its amiability on its regional environment through open dialogue in order to overcome any dispute that arises and give precedence to the interests of the people. Qatar has continued this constructive and targeted approach to cooperation between brotherly and friendly countries, which has earned it more respect and credibility as a neutral mediator in regional and international conflicts.
Q.: What place does Azerbaijan occupy in your country’s external relations?
A.: Azerbaijan occupies a distinguished position in the foreign policy orientations of the State of Qatar, which is based on mutual respect and shared interests, and a sincere desire to develop trade, economic, and investment relations. Over the past few years, Azerbaijan has become a preferred travel destination for many Qatari nationals due to the available infrastructure capabilities and the short flight distance between the two countries. Exemption of citizens of the two countries from visa requirements reflects the extent of this distinguished relationship.
Q.: Both Azerbaijan and Qatar are oil and gas producers. Do you see our country as a rival or possible partner in this sphere?
A.: Qatar and Azerbaijan are important sources of gas and oil, and this sector remains the most important economic resource for the two countries, given that the State of Qatar and the Republic of Azerbaijan have adopted future strategies to diversify the economy, which is independent of the oil and gas sector, in order to achieve the necessary sustainability in financial and economic terms. Both countries are undoubtedly complimentary due to the growing global demand for both oil and gas.
Q.: Qatari Nebras Power company is considering the construction of wind power plants in Azerbaijan’s liberated areas. How do you assess the prospects of cooperation in this area?
A.: Nebras Power Company is open for investment in the Republic of Azerbaijan and the promotion of projects in the alternative or clean energy field, in accordance with the direction of the leadership of Azerbaijan on the construction of green cities. Mutual meetings were held with officials of the Ministry of Energy of Azerbaijan, as well as with Azerenerji OJSC. An integrated file has been proposed for one of the most important expansion projects of one of the most significant power plants. Nebras also has a strong track record in clean energy projects and has made significant contributions to other countries.
Q.: Have other Qatari companies shown interest in developing projects in the liberated areas?
A.: There is an intention to hold a business forum between the businessmen of Qatar and Azerbaijan in order to become better acquainted with the investment opportunities available in all territories of Azerbaijan. All Qatari companies are open for investment when the right conditions are created, which they are doing in several countries, for example, in the Turkish market.
Q.: The bulk of our bilateral trade falls on Azerbaijan’s agricultural exports. What goods could diversify the variety of products in our turnover? Are there any events on the agenda that could contribute to this process?
A.: Azerbaijani agricultural products have already proved their quality in the Qatari market. Qatar is also a consumer market for all types of food products, despite the progress made in the field of food security over the past few years, which has brought Qatar to the top in a short period of time. But there are still many export commodities that can enrich the Qatari market with Azerbaijani products, such as construction materials specific to Azerbaijan, as well as optical cables for the Internet and sanitary materials. And do not forget that the process of facilitating navigation is an important factor in increasing trade exchange and requires coordination with transit countries to speed up the process of transportation without any obstacles.
Q.: The tourist flow from Qatar to Azerbaijan rocketed before the pandemic. What are your expectations for the post-pandemic period? How is the situation changing after the gradual lifting of COVID restrictions? Does the introduction of a visa-free regime between our countries in late 2021 contribute to tourist exchange?
A.: The sector most affected by the pandemic is the tourism and aviation sector, which has still not yet recovered but has gradually improved in recent months due to the preventive measures taken to confront the epidemic. But as this pandemic gradually recedes, visitors from Qatar are expected to gradually return. And, as I mentioned earlier, Azerbaijan has become one of the most desirable destinations because of its proximity, great atmosphere, tourism opportunities, security and stability.
Q.: How do you assess the ties between our countries in the cultural sphere? Has the Embassy planned any events to promote these cultural connections?
A.: The cultural aspect is very important in the work of any embassy to introduce people. And the Embassy of the State of Qatar does not hesitate to take the opportunity to participate in the events invited to promote the State of Qatar, the latest of which was the Spring Festival held in the Gobustan settlement. The Embassy of the State of Qatar also organized cultural and sporting events in Baku, during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Q.: Share your impressions from your stay in Azerbaijan. What do you like here the most?
A.: I have a very positive impression of the country in which I have been living for about two and a half years, for several reasons; the most important of which are the Azerbaijani people who have the most hospitable manners towards others, as well as the superiority of Azerbaijan in terms of its security and stability, which is similar to my country Qatar. Another important factor is the close proximity to my homeland.