BAKU - Azerbaijan and the European Union can continue negotiations on signing a strategic partnership agreement if European partners change their positions, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said.
"Our negotiations with the EU on a new agreement are going quite well. More than 90% of the clauses have already been agreed upon. But the clauses that have not been agreed upon are categorically unacceptable to us. And if the EU changes its positions, we may continue result-oriented negotiations," Aliyev said in an interview shown on the Rossiya-24 (VGTRK) television channel.
Azerbaijan has developed good relations with all European countries, but it has not signed an association agreement with the EU and is not planning to join it, he said.
"Azerbaijan is not going to join the EU, and nobody is welcoming us there. We are not even one of the candidates and, unlike some other countries of the former USSR participating in the Eastern Partnership project, we haven't signed an association agreement. I've read it from beginning to end and understood that this is not an agreement, but a directive that we would have to follow. I asked the members of my team: Why would we need this directive? How would we benefit from it? Is there any practical advantage? I personally didn't see any, and this is why we have invited the European Commission to work on a bilateral agreement that would be beneficial to us, so that I could tell the citizens of Azerbaijan why we agreed to this. After all, we can't sign an agreement just to please someone, or simply in order to say that we have one. We don't do such things. Any agreement and any understanding should have practical results," Aliyev said.
The Azerbaijani leader had said on December 23 that a draft strategic partnership agreement with the EU was "ninety percent ready."
He said, however, that the parties had disagreements on two key points.
Trade is the first major issue, he said. "Azerbaijan is not a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). I believe the time for our membership has not yet come, considering that oil and gas constitute the core of our exports and that we also need to protect the domestic market and domestic manufacturing industries and agriculture. What's more, the WTO is going through a crisis: the United States is reconsidering its membership, and certain countries are fighting trade wars. Our cautious attitude to WTO membership is logical and understandable in this context," Aliyev said.
Another major issue is energy, he said. "First and foremost, this is a question of energy prices. We've been offered to sell exported gas at domestic prices. What does this mean? Eighty-five percent of the population of today's Azerbaijan pays a discounted gas price of about 100 manats ($58) per 1,000 cubic meters, while prices stand at $300-500 per 1,000 cubic meters in Europe. It looks like we will have to sharply increase domestic prices, and that is inadmissible, or sell exported gas for $58, which is impossible. So, we still need to coordinate these two main issues," Aliyev said.