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Malena Mard: Joining the WTO increases the predictability of the foreign trade regime

The Head of the Delegation of the European Union in Azerbaijan Malena Mard in an interview with Turan spoke about the future vision of the Brussels agreement between Azerbaijan and EU partnership and the role of WTO membership on trade, on the situation of civil society in Azerbaijan.

Q: At what stage is the process of preparation of a partnership agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan? Will there be agreement on strategic partnership and is there an analog of such an agreement between the EU and other countries?

Relations between the European Union and Azerbaijan are now governed under the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement signed twenty years ago and entered into force 17 years ago. It is obvious that both the EU and Azerbaijan have changed since. The EU has evolved as a key player in international politics with a particular commitment on Eastern Partnership, that has become one of the key priorities of EU's external policy. Azerbaijan has also seen its economy grow with dividends felt in the country's social policies. Therefore, it is high time that the bilateral relationship follows the dynamics of the two partners. The new agreement replacing the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement will be comprehensive covering a very large area of activities. The mandate for the negotiations was adopted earlier this month. We now look forward to the start of talks with our Azerbaijani counterparts. It is far too early to give a name to the agreement and to compare it with other ones. What is however clear from the beginning is that the new agreement will be ambitious. The fact that Azerbaijan is not yet a WTO member has an impact on the negotiations for the new agreement in that it sets a limit for a possible commercial trade regime.

Q: In general, what is the effect of Azerbaijan's participation in the WTO on trade relations between Azerbaijan and the EU?

I am of the opinion that WTO accession is in the interest of Azerbaijan, because it increases predictability of its external trade regime and sets rules for other areas including for the investment climate. Azerbaijan has embarked in recent years on a policy of economic diversification and in this context the improvement of the investment climate and the opening of new export markets seem to be important priorities. WTO accession could definitely contribute in this direction.

Q: Can the Government of Azerbaijan rely on financial support from the European institutions, continuing to put pressure on civil society institutions, including organizations dealing with transparency, as well as delaying the reforms in the field of democracy and human rights?

The EU has provided over 600 million EUR in grant funding to support development of the country since Azerbaijan's independence. The EU's financial support to all Eastern Partnership countries, including Azerbaijan, is based on the 'more-for-more' principle. In this regard, the EU offers its neighbours a privileged relationship, building upon a mutual commitment to common values (democracy and human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development). EU works together with its partners to develop democratic, socially equitable and inclusive societies, and offers its neighbours economic integration, improved circulation of people across borders, financial assistance and technical cooperation toward approximation with EU standards. The European Commission provides financial support in grant form to partners; the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development complement this support through loans. The level of ambition of the relationship depends on the extent the shared values are endorsed.



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