UN assists Azerbaijan to transform from oil to knowledge economy

Azerbaijan is the fastest growing economy in the Asia-Pacific region, with an annual growth rate of more than 20 per cent thanks to surging oil revenues.

In order to secure longer-term economic stability, the government is prioritizing the information and communication technology (ICT) sector, making it second in importance only to the oil industry.

To assist the government to realize its goals of transforming “oil into knowledge” and “turning black gold into human gold”, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in cooperation with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Ministry of ICT of Azerbaijan, organized a seminar on ICT policymaking in Baku this week.

The two-day seminar, on 26 and 27 November, was held back-to-back with the BakuTel-2007 exhibition, which gathered 25 countries including members of the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) and countries from the Caucasus.

In its economic development plan 2003-2012, Azerbaijan aims to create an innovative economy through the application of the latest information technologies. The government has introduced competition into several ICT sectors including mobile phone services.

As a result, 40 per cent of the population now has mobile phones, compared with less than 10 per cent in 2002. Internet use is also increasing by double digits annually.

However, the country still suffers from underdeveloped ICT infrastructure, especially in high-speed broadband connectivity, creating a bottleneck for modernizing productive sectors. Fixed line services still remain a monopoly.

The seminar featured a series of panel presentations and discussions on ICT policy for knowledge economy development; integration of ICT policies in national development policies and strategies; convergence of telecom and media; migration to next generation network; interconnections in convergence; and costing and tariffs.

Rufat Gulmammadov, Head of the Information Society Department from the Ministry of ICT, told the seminar that Azerbaijan plans to create ICT-based “techno parks” for software development and notebook computer manufacturing. The Ministry also plans to create service companies in the IT field which will enjoy preferential tax rates and customs procedures.

A special session on “Oil for ICT Development” was held against the backdrop of Azerbaijan’s upcoming accession to the WTO and its integration into a global knowledge economy. Over 40 government representatives from the Ministries of ICT, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Industry, Education, Internal Affairs, Labor, and the Space Agency were in attendance