February 21, 2018 / 1:23 PM / 25 days ago

Development banks tell Azerbaijan to diversify economy more

BAKU, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Oil-rich Azerbaijan is making progress in its drive to diversify sources of economic growth and improve its business environment but needs to do more, officials from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank said on Wednesday.

Azerbaijan’s economy was hit by a slide in the price of oil, which with gas accounts for about 75 percent of state revenues and 45 percent of gross domestic product. But it stabilised last year, growing 0.1 percent as oil prices rebounded and the service and agriculture sectors expanded.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, but ... the government is taking measures to encourage the non-oil part of the economy to grow,” the World Bank’s country manager, Naveed Hassan Naqvi, told Reuters in an interview.

“When policymakers in Azerbaijan talk about diversification, they talk of improving the agriculture sector, improving services.”

The World Bank expects the Azeri economy to grow by 1-1.5 percent in 2018, he said.

Naqvi said there were some signs of improvement in the business environment in the last 18 months in the ex-Soviet country, including simplification of visa regulations for foreign visitors.

Nariman Mannapbekov, the Asian Development Bank’s country manager, praised measures taken in the agriculture sector and the implementation of structural reforms to improve trade.

“We see good progress in the simplification of customs clearance, the introduction of electronic payments of custom duties, reducing the time period for getting some licenses,” Mannapbekov told Reuters.

He said the Asian Development Bank (ADB) wanted to see reforms in agriculture that were sustainable and results-oriented, and said the introduction of strong corporate governance at large state-owned enterprises would be “beneficial for the economy and its diversification.”

Mannapbekov said that in April the ADB might raise its forecast slightly for 1 percent economic growth in Azerbaijan this year.

The ADB supports Azerbaijan via programmes to improve governance and public sector efficiency, while the World Bank helps the country to improve its business environment by advising on budget and judicial reform. (Editing by Susan Fenton)

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