Bridges: How would you describe the current economic relationship between Azerbaijan and Japan?
Yonekura: Financial cooperation as ODA (Official Development Assistance) from Japan to Azerbaijan has amounted to approximately US$1 billion (2020). From 2014-2017 Japan was number one contributor to Azerbaijan, 2018 the second and 2019 the third. However, the trade volume between the countries is not high. Exports from Japan to Azerbaijan amounted to US$0.5 billion in 2022 and included iron and steel, automotive, machinery and electrical equipment. Imports from Azerbaijan to Japan amounted to US$0.1 billion in 2022 and included non-ferrous metals (aluminum), crude fertilizers, minerals, fruits and vegetables.
Two Steps Forward
• December 2022 saw the signing of the Tax Convention between Japan and Azerbaijan.
• The establishment of cargo flights between Azerbaijan and Japan: GYD (Baku) – NRT (Tokyo) and GYD (Baku) – KIX (Osaka).
What can be done to strengthen this relationship?
The key point is the advancement of Japanese companies into Azerbaijan. In Azerbaijan, there are few Japanese companies and very few importers. I hardly ever see real Japanese products so there are many opportunities for Japanese companies to gain market share.
Azerbaijan is well positioned to become a regional ‘trade base’.
Cargo flights between Azerbaijan and Japan are already in service.
With Baku as a hub airport, it can be used as a starting point for trade across Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East.
In Azerbaijan, some high schools and universities are teaching Japanese classes and many students from Azerbaijan are studying in Japan. These students are interested in running a business in both countries so, they can be pioneers driving relationships, trade, culture and education.
What role does the Chamber play in bringing both countries closer together?
The first step is to get to know Azerbaijan and Japan as many Japanese people do not yet know Azerbaijan. People need to be given correct information on politics, economics and religion and we provide information online and speak to boards of directors to encourage better understanding.
Business promotion and acceleration
We have organized a Japan Georgia Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan; Georgia is a neighbor of Azerbaijan. It was organized with a focus on the synergies of economic development in both countries. We will start a regular trade and cargo service from Azerbaijan (including Georgia) to Japan in the spring of 2024.
Until now, independent companies and small and medium-sized enterprises have been importing goods in small amounts which is costly – we expect to reduce costs. This initiative is looking for local businesses in Azerbaijan that want to sell Japanese products and regular exports from Japan will be possible at the same time.
As Azerbaijan builds up its role on the international stage, what are your hopes for the future of the country?
Azerbaijan is a region of great geopolitical importance, located in the center of the region linking Central Asia, Russia, Iran, and Turkey. It also has friendly diplomatic and economic policies with the United States, Russia, Iran and Israel. If Azerbaijan promotes itself as a neutral, omnidirectional diplomacy, it will play an important economic and political role in the future.