What new initiatives and developments are taking place in Azerbaijan's ICT Sector?
ALI ABBASOV: The ICT sector in Azerbaijan plays a great role in the diversification of our economy. While our economy is oil driven, diversification is very important and this is whayÂ the government attaches big importance to ICT. Firstly, in the ICT development, we are improving network infrastructure. We have a special strategy for the broadband strategy. InÂ Azerbaijan, our government and the private sector, they are both investing in infrastructure, building whatever is there. But now, Azerbaijan has big ambitions to be the hub of ICT hub in the region.
We are investing in such areas of ICT in which to produce products and services to export to the regional markets. And in this area, the priority field work in this field is to build the regional potential for ICT and information service delivery. Two big data centers are being built and Internet gateways are being built in Azerbaijan. Also, we are investing in two transnational information highways. One is now ready, it is the Europe-Persia Express Gateway (EPEG). It is beginning from Frankfurt and ending in Oman. The second one, the Azerbaijan government has initiated the Trans-Eurasian Information Super Highway (TASIM). This is the main direction of our ICT development at home.
Azerbaijan is now also initiating the digital single markets in the region and I call all the interested business people to join this project. We want to have a fully digitized economic environment in the region, without any borders.
What are the Azerbaijan Governmentâ€™s budgetary allocations for ICT infrastructure development?
ALI ABBASOV: Azerbaijan has an oil fund and the oil fund is one of the source of investment for infrastructure development. Second, to accelerate the private sector and to involve smaller/medium business in this type of business, the Azerbaijan government has developed a special strategy which is based on three pillars.
The first is to develop the human resources and the knowledge in order to increase the knowledge potential of the society. Second is the special environment for SMEs adn startup companies. The special environment is the network of techno-parks where they have a concession in taxation and customs. The third one is there to improve the access of the local companies to the financial resources and to establish the special investment funds and ICT development funds, such as science and technology funds. We have a few funds where the government of Azerbaijan gives very soft loans to local companies to improve and increase their competitiveness in the markets of Azerbaijan, as well as in the regional markets, and to give an opportunity to them to cooperate with foreign companies and foreign investors in our markets for infrastructure development.
Under 5% of the GDP is contributedÂ by the ICT sector. But we have a target by 2020 to increase it to 10%. So the strategy for ICT has this target.
What percentage of GDP does the ICT sector currently account for in Azerbaijan? Where would you like to see that figure in the future?
ALI ABBASOV:Â Under 5% of the GDP is contributedÂ by the ICT sector. But we have a target by 2020 to increase it to 10%. So the strategy for ICT has this target.
What do you see as the best foreign investment opportunities in ICT in Azerbaijan today?
ALI ABBASOV: For foreign investors, my government has created the following conditions for them. Firstly, a good and soft business environment that gives opportunities for foreign investors to have good access to the internal markets of Azerbaijan. Secondly, foreign investors canÂ share their investment using these special funds and involving local companies in partnerships.