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Tuesday, 01 December 2015 18:00

EU will be in need of more gas - Ambassador of Greece Dimitrios Tsoungas Featured

EU will be in need of more gas - Ambassador of Greece Dimitrios Tsoungas

Caspian Energy (CE): Mr. Ambassador, how do you assess the bilateral cooperation between Azerbaijan and Greece, that has been formed so far?

Dimitrios Tsoungas, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Hellenic Republic to the Republic of Azerbaijan: You know very well that until June 2013 bilateral relations between two countries were very good. But after June 2013 the relations became even better because, as you perfectly know, the Azerbaijani government selected TAP project (Trans Adriatic Pipeline) as a route to diversify Azerbaijani gas supplies to Europe. Apart from this, there were first negotiations held at that period where after a decision concerning the DESFA’s privatization was made. So, ever since bilateral relations are developing fast at all possible levels. By means of these projects Greece and Azerbaijan continue strengthening trust-based relationship between each other. Greece and Azerbaijan were not so well known to each other but now I could say that it is exactly the opposite. Azerbaijan is very visible in the Greek press and ever since Greece is very visible to the Azerbaijani press as well. As far as our bilateral trade relations are concerned, they are also growing up every single day. I have been here for a little bit more than two years, so if I compare the present day with a period before my appointment, I can seemore Greek products on the shelves at Azerbaijani supermarkets. It is noteworthy that the government of Azerbaijan is focused on the oil sector projects due to abundant oil-gas reserves.  It means that the non-oil sector is not developed enough for the time being. Conditions are created for its development and both countries already gain certain advantages. But there is one problem. As far as I know not only Greek companies but also other European companies are complaining about difficulties arising in the customs house when importing European goods. The thing is that procedures are a little bit complicated, prices are high, so that is a little bit discouraging. Perhaps solution of this issue will promote motivation and increase imported goods at least from Greece, since I am talking about my country.

 

 

CE: Is EU ready for counter measures if Azerbaijan lowers customs duties?

Dimitrios Tsoungas: Answering for my country, Greece, I would like to mention Greek company as an example, whichwould like to export some goods worth 10,000 EUR, but if it has to pay 14,000 EUR with customs included, it is not rational and profitable. For this reason, neither this nor any other company will be encouraged to export goods to Azerbaijan. The other sector of bilateral relations, which is developing rapidly and well, is the oil refining sector. There are certain difficulties in the oil refining sphere of Azerbaijan, but Greece has these areas developed very well. We have a high level know-how in this sphere and a  long experience on its introduction. I would like to note that Greece exported a high volume of oil products to Azerbaijan in 2014, which raised our turnover to a high level. I hope it will happen this year as well. 

 

 CE: Which other problems do you see on the way of substitution of the oil sector product turnover  with the non-oil sector’s goods?

Dimitrios Tsoungas: What I am going to say is not Azerbaijan’s fault. Azerbaijan is very tightly related to the big countries of this region like Russia for example, like Turkey or Iran. All those countries immediately entered Azerbaijan’s market right away after its independence, back in 1991. Greece opened its embassy early in 1992, which started operating in 1993. So, the embassy of Greece has been operating in Azerbaijan for over 22 years. But from that time all these big countries of the region had already entered into the Azerbaijani market and now the Azerbaijani market is dominated by the products from these countries. So this is a little bit more difficult from other countries to penetrate market as far as agricultural projects or any other kinds of products are concerned, as there is not much space for import of high quality and high volume of Greek goods. Let me give you an example. Greek olives and Greek olive oil are the best in the world. I am glad to note that during my two-years stay here, the volume of Greek olives and olive oil has considerably increased. But still it is not so easy to import Greek olive oil in higher volumes here, as there is a high amount of olive oil supplied from other countries of the region. So they do not leave enough space for goods from smaller countries let’s say. But still the Greek products are represented in Azerbaijan in a worthy manner.

 

CE: Maybe Greek companies should  be more creative in terms of introduction of their products in the market?  There are many business- associations, exhibitions  where the Greek companies can do promotion of their high quality products. In particular, it can be done for free within the framework of the Caspian European Club...

Dimitrios Tsoungas: Our agricultural products are of high level and meet very high ecological standards. And Greek companies are trying hard to increase their presence in the Azerbaijani market and I see their broad success and increasing prospects.

We certainly take all details into account. I mean not only food products. As you know, Greek Furs are well known all over the world and leading Azerbaijani companies such as Carolina Valiant, Femina Kristina and others import high amount of Greek furs to Azerbaijan. It is noteworthy that we are trying, move forward step by step.

 CE: Does Greece plan to attract Azerbaijani investors into the non-oil sector of the country? For example, according to agreements, Greece should sell airports? Is it planned to attract Azerbaijani investments?

Dimitrios Tsoungas: Well, Greece is open to investments. And I think it’s the right time because we are going through an economic crisis, so this is the right time to any country to invest. Not only in the oil sector of course, but also to the real estate sector, the hotel business, etc. We are open to any serious investments. As far as the airports are concerned, yes we had a tender, but, it has already been concluded. We were selling 14 regional airports and I think that the whole process has been completedby selling them to a European Group. Anyway we are open to all serious investments and we are promoting that.

 

 CE: How do you assess the agreement with DESFA? Why did it take long to have it approved?

Dimitrios Tsoungas: Although the embassy is not so deeply involved in this negotiation process, I am personally very surprised about this delay. But there is a kind of explanation. You know that last year in 2014 we had European parliamentary elections. So the staff of the new European Commission has changed and new members of the Commission would like to have more time in order to get familiarized with the information including of course the privatization of DESFA. The company has confirmed the agreement in the EC. However, issues concerning competition arose. It is a standard procedure of the European Commission, so this is where the delay came from, which is beneficial neither to Azerbaijan nor to Greece. It is true, it took a long time, but hopefully it’s going to be completed in the forthcoming months. Hopefully I think by the end of this year. As far as I know, negotiations are going on and we just have to hope and wait to see the result. 

 

 CE: How is the implementation of TAP in the Greek section ongoing? Do you see any problems on the way of implementation of the project?

Dimitrios Tsoungas: Let’s start from the fact that TAP is the biggest private investment in Greece ever. We are talking about 1.5 billion Euros as well as about thousands of new jobs. We are talking about the longest part of TAP crossing Greece, because TAP is 850 km long and 550 km of it crosses the whole northern part of the country. This by itself is challenging because it will change let’s say the energy map of my country. Greece will become an energy hub but first we have to solve some problems because we are talking about land and land owners, as far as I know we are talking about 13-15 thousand land owners. TAP consortium has to negotiate with all of them, with each one of them, in order to compensate the loss of their immovable property because these people are going to lose their lands. So this is a challenge. Another challenge is that as Greece is a very ancient country, wherever you dig there is a possibility of running into archeological sites. So, there were some problems which are solved on a daily basis as they arise. As far as I know, the whole process, be it here or in Greece, is going smoothly in accordance with the schedule, and in some points even ahead of schedule. So, I think that everybody is satisfied. So, hopefully the whole project will have been completed until 2020 as it was scheduled at the very beginning. Keep in mind that although we had government changes in Greece, both Government and political parties are supportive of TAP project for the reason I have told you in the beginning. I think TAP will be completed   in compliance with the schedule. As far as I know, the construction of TAP will start in 2016. The tender for pipeline won by a Greek company, ended only a few days ago.

 

 

 CE: What is your vision about the Southern Gas Corridor in terms of its further integration into the European network in 10 years? Which new projects can join it?

Dimitrios Tsoungas: As I said before, TAP is a huge project. It’s not only the biggest private investment for Greece but is also extremely important for Albania, Azerbaijan, Italy, Turkey, etc. That’s why there are a lot of countries interested in joining the project. We have already Bulgaria and Romania among countries which joined it. Everybody is speaking about an interconnector Greece — Bulgaria IGB, whose construction is about to start. There is another one which comes from Albania to Montenegro, Croatia and Serbia. So, when this pipeline arrives in Italy who knows there might be some other countries wishing to join and get Azerbaijani natural gas through this. I can’t predict of course, but anyway, there are many countries which are already involved in this process. It’s the whole southern and central Europe. It’s a big project with a lot of perspectives and of course when TAP is launched we will realize that 10 bcm per year is no longer enough, so we are going to need for more amount of natural gas. It will take a while. I certainly can’t predict what will happen in 2030. But it is evident now that the energy needs of European states are growing up day by day.

 

 CE: Are there any official visits scheduled for near perspective?

Dimitrios Tsoungas: As I said before, there have been some political changes in Greece this year. This year we have had two elections. You also had parliamentary elections. So both sides formed new governmental institutions. In our case the government is intensifying its international relations. Coming back to the issue of visits, there is a pending invitation for the Greek Parliament Speaker to visit Azerbaijan, as well asa pending invitation to the Greek Parliamentary team of Greek-Azerbaijani Friendship Group to visit Baku.

Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers of both countries have not exchanged official visits for some time now, although they have met in the margins of international events. Finally, the 4th Session of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission, to be held in Athens, is also pending. So there is a number of bilateral contacts which might be organized in the forthcoming months. 

 

                                                                                                                                                                    Thank you for the interview

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