Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan Deepen Bilateral Ties
Author: Toghrul Ali
Aug 30, 2023
President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev conducted a working visit to Azerbaijan on August 22-23. Marking Mirziyoyev’s first official visit to Azerbaijan following his re-election in July, the trip proved to be fruitful; several strategic cooperation agreements were signed between the leaders and ministries of the two countries. Moreover, Mirziyoyev visited Azerbaijan’s liberated territories in Karabakh and participated in the inauguration of a school in Fuzuli, which marked the first contribution of a foreign state to the restoration of the war-torn region. The Uzbek president’s visit was significant because the two countries aim to remove barriers in trade and transport to fully unlock the potential of Uzbek-Azerbaijani bilateral relations.
In Baku, Mirziyoyev and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev held a one-on-one meeting before expanding the format to include the Uzbek and Azerbaijani delegations. “Azerbaijan is one of the closest countries to us, and our relations have reached a completely new level,” said Mirziyoyev in a press statement following talks with Aliyev. In turn, Aliyev congratulated Mirziyoyev on his re-election and further emphasized the great potential of the fraternal relations between the two countries demonstrated by the increase in the number of official visits in the last several years.
The discussions during the meetings focused on enhancing bilateral ties between the two countries. Namely, cooperation in political, economic, trade, industry, automobile production, metallurgy, pharmaceuticals, transportation, and other fields were examined. The two presidents, as well as ministers from both countries, signed a total of 20 documents in various areas of cooperation, defining the long-term prospects of cooperation between Baku and Tashkent. The most prominent of these agreements was the establishment of a Supreme Interstate Council between Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Additionally, Mirziyoyev and Aliyev signed a cooperation memorandum between the national security councils, a protocol that modifies an accord allowing visa-free travel for citizens of Azerbaijan, and a strategic roadmap spanning 2023-2024 aimed at enhancing the extensive and strategic partnership between the two nations.
Economic and trade relations were the main focus of the meetings, with the two countries having achieved significant breakthroughs in this regard in the last few years. In 2022, the trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan increased by six times, amounting to $182 million. In the first seven months of 2023, trade turnover reached $90 million. However, while the trade relations have grown well in the last five years, they are still not at the desired level. In this line, Mirziyoyev and Aliyev have set a task to bring the figure to $1 billion in the next five years, specifically by increasing mutual supplies of pharmaceutical, petrochemical, and plastic products as well as polymers and mining products.
On the eve of Mirziyoyev’s visit, Baku hosted the Uzbek-Azerbaijani Business Forum, with the participation of heads of key ministries and departments, as well as over 250 representatives of leading companies of the two countries. While about 200 Azerbaijani companies currently operate in Uzbekistan, Uzbek businesses are currently underrepresented in Azerbaijan. To this end, a joint Uzbek-Azerbaijani investment fund was established in February with a capitalization level of $500 million for the implementation of promising industrial and agricultural projects. Projects such as this are expected to promote more joint ventures and collaboration between Uzbek and Azerbaijani businesses, especially since the two leaders agreed to increase the capital amount for the fund during the meetings held in Baku.
Cooperation in the energy sector was another central part of the discussions. Several important agreements were signed between the energy ministries and state-owned energy companies of Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. The State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) and its Uzbek counterparts, namely Uzbekneftegaz and the Ministry of Mining and Geology of Uzbekistan, signed agreements on the cooperation in the oil and gas and petrochemical spheres, providing for mutual participation in the relevant projects in both countries. Earlier in 2023, SOCAR and Uzbekneftegaz had signed a protocol on the creation of a joint venture for trading. In this line, the two sides discussed the current situation and prospects for cooperation in the trading and logistics of oil, petrochemicals, and other petroleum products and personnel training.
Moreover, the two countries’ energy ministers signed a roadmap agreement for energy cooperation between Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan for 2023-2025. The roadmap covers 14 primary sectors, including hydrocarbon resource exploration and production, renewable energy sources, energy sector reform, efficient energy resource utilization, energy transition, and decarbonization. Additionally, it presents pathways for sharing knowledge and skills regarding hydrogen generation. Regarding renewable energy, the roadmap notes the role of Uzbek companies’ participation in building alternative energy resources in the liberated territories of Azerbaijan.
Following the completion of the talks between Mirziyoyev and Aliyev in Baku, the two leaders visited the cities of Fuzuli and Shusha in the Karabakh Economic Region of Azerbaijan. Having previously expressed interest in contributing to the restoration of monuments and cultural and educational sites in Karabakh, Mirziyoyev participated in the opening of a secondary school named after Mirzo Ulugbek of Samarkand, a revered Uzbek scientist and ruler during the medieval Islamic Renaissance. During his remarks, Ilham Aliyev noted that the school was built on Mirziyoyev’s personal initiative. “This is the first gift of a foreign state in the restoration of Karabakh, and we highly appreciate this gesture of brotherhood, solidarity, and support,” Aliyev added.
The fostering of bilateral relations between Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan comes at a time of a broader shift within the Caspian region, as states move closer towards interregional cooperation. Their shared Turkic heritage plays a specific role in this case because Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, among other members of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS), have continued to demonstrate that they will prioritize building relations between one another. Shared cultural heritage and increased involvement through regional organizations also provide an encouraging framework for these countries to build on their existing bilateral relations, especially in the fields of trade, energy, and transport. As was noted during Mirziyoyev’s visit, the full potential of Uzbek-Azerbaijani relations is yet to be explored as both countries work towards removing trade barriers and fostering a more business-friendly environment.