Italy’s launch of a strategic economic and political partnership with Azerbaijan was the most important result of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s recent visit to Italy to meet with President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano and Premier Matteo Renzi. The two countries signed a joint declaration that marks a leap in quaity in bilateral relations. The first institutional step was taken during a discussion table that calls for annual ones to follow at foreign minister level. This will be the forum in which to update and outline objectives, programmes and priorities. The undertaking is a major one. Indeed, thanks to its hydrocarbon fuel reserves, Azerbaijan has become increasingly important to Italy and Europe, both economically and politically, and is today one of Italy’s main oil suppliers. Completion of a trans-Caucasus and trans-Anatolia system of gas pipelines was approved, which will also reach Italy (TAP: Trans-Adriatic Pipelines) and bypass Gazprom. The construction of the TAP will also be one of the key topics of strategic dialogue over the coming months. Azerbaijan currently enjoys a strongly favourable trade balance; Italy, particularly its Sicilian refineries, is the top customer for oil from Azerbaijan (USD6.7 billion). But the situation will change: the Baku government has decided to use the revenue from the Oil & Gas sector to diversify its economy, upgrade infrastructure and improve services to citizens (healthcare, schools, networks). In all these sectors Italy is considered a major partner for the supply of know-how and technologies such as those already provided in the Oil & Gas sector by ENI and Saipem. But the protocol calls for extention into other areas, such as metallurgy, mechanics and machinery, chemicals and downstream activities. Azerbaijan has a strategic role in the completion of the Euro-Asian corridor from Turkey through the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea toward Central Asia and China. Work on high capacity roadway and railway connections across Georgia have already begun. Those for the construction of a major port on the Caspian Sea at Alat will start soon. In this context, the association of Italian construction firms (ANCE) is outlining an agreement for its greater participation in future contracts for these projects. The MOU also calls for the strong collaboration/assistance of Azerbaijani administrative, technical and legal bodies with a view to aligning with European and international best practices. The projects also offer an opportunity to Italian institutions and could be financed through EU Twinning funds.
(Il Sole 24 Ore Radiocor)