The Sunday Mail
Mabasa Sasa in Baku, Azerbaijan
President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev yesterday initiated the first high-level contacts between the two countries when they met in Baku close to the Caspian Sea shoreline.
President Aliyev invited the Head of State and Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces to Azerbaijan to lay the groundwork for mutually beneficial ties.
In the context of the new administration’s thrust of economic diplomacy, seen at a policy level by the incorporation of “international trade” into the Foreign Affairs Ministry, President Mnangagwa accepted the invitation.
Already, Harare and Baku have drafted two agreements — on tax administration and investments protection — which insiders are confident will be signed soon following the cordial meeting between Presidents Mnangagwa and Aliyev.
In an interview, Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Ambassador James Manzou said, “As you are aware, Zimbabwe had already flourishing diplomatic relations with Russia and Belarus so our visit had to do with re-engaging and solidifying all the relationships, particularly focusing on the economy.
“But Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are unique in the sense that for those two countries, we are breaking new frontiers in search of economic co-operation in line with our policy of economic diplomacy.
“Therefore, (on Saturday) morning His Excellency the President had a very productive meeting with the President of Azerbaijan, President Aliyev.
“The meeting focused on exploring areas of co-operation between Azerbaijan and Zimbabwe. As you know, Azerbaijan is an oil and gas-producing country. They have a lot of reserves in their sovereign funds, and we were interested in attracting Azerbaijan investment into the Zimbabwean economy, particularly in the areas of mining, the areas of infrastructure and in the area of tourism.
“I must say that there was very keen interest from President Aliyev in the possibility of investing in Zimbabwe and therefore henceforth what is needed is to build the legal framework for co-operation with Azerbaijan.”
Ambassador Manzou went on: “We are looking at proposing a draft agreement for the establishment of a Joint Commission between the two countries. Also on their part, in terms of preparing themselves for investing in Zimbabwe, they are looking at a bilateral investment protection agreement.
“That agreement is already on the table, the two sides are considering it. They are also looking forward to us signing a double taxation agreement. Again, that agreement – the draft agreement – is on the table and the two sides are liaising on that.
“So we explored all these areas. The area of agriculture, also, was an area of interest for them. As I said, tourism, they asked for the Zimbabwean side to provide more information in terms of areas where they can possibly involve themselves.”
Ambassador Manzou said Azerbaijan was interested in business-to-business co-operation, and President Aliyev said a delegation from his country would visit Harare to seek opportunities, partnerships and investment deals.
“The two sides, as I have indicated, have already exchanged agreements in the areas of bilateral investment protection and double taxation, and these agreements are being considered and will be signed at the appropriate time.”
After meeting President Aliyev at the Presidential Palace in Astana, President Mnangagwa toured the Asana Service Centre, which houses several Azerbaijan government ministries.
Ambassador Manzou said, “All government services are concentrated in that space. As they said, 300 government services are concentrated in that space. This includes departments that issue birth certificates, those that issue licenses, including investment licenses, and even those that issue death certificates, insurance and the like. They are all under one roof.
“This is an attempt to make sure that service delivery to the people is efficient and is on time. You may have heard as we were passing through that registering a company in Azerbaijan takes just 15 minutes. And this is something in Zimbabwe we would have to emulate.
“As you know in Zimbabwe we are in the process of establishing Zida (Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency). The standards (here) are high but I’m sure we can emulate this system that Azerbaijan has put in place.”
Azerbaijan ranks very highly on global “ease of doing business” and competitiveness indices.
Two-thirds of the country’s territory has oil and/or gas, and is strong in agriculture, infrastructure development, tourism and other sectors.
Zimbabwe and Azerbaijan established diplomatic relations about 11 years ago, but in that period there have not been any bilateral political or economic exchanges.
Since President Mnangagwa’s ascension in November 2017, that has started to change.
Late last year, Azerbaijan started providing scholarships to Zimbabweans at undergraduate/graduate/doctoral level and for medicine/residency.
After meeting President Aliyev, President Mnangagwa headed to Kazakhstan to round off what has been a very successful tour of Eurasia, and he is expected to meeting President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Last week, he also had fruitful talks with President Vladimir Putin (Russia) and Alexander Lukashenko (Belarus), which resulted in the signing of a raft of agreements and partnerships that covered sectors as diverse as mining, agriculture, transport and logistics, infrastructure, education and training, and extradition.
President Mnangagwa invited both Presidents Putin and Alexander Lukashenko (Belarus) to visit Zimbabwe, along with businesspeople from those countries.