Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey signed a major international trade and transport corridor deal on the sidelines of the 7th Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA-VII) in Ashgabat, which was attended by representatives of 65 countries.
The Lapis Lazuli Corridor will begin in Afghanistan’s northern Faryab province and Turqundi in the country’s western Herat province. It will continue to Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan and after passing the Caspian Sea will link Baku to Tbilisi and Georgia’s Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti. It will connect with Kars in eastern Turkey before linking to Istanbul and Europe.
The corridor will connect with Turkey’s Middle Corridor Project (East-West Trans-Caspian Trade and Transport Corridor) and will compliment other regional transport corridors, such as the Five Nations Railway Corridor.
Current projects to improve infrastructure and procedures across the five countries are estimated to exceed $2 billion.
An associate professor of the Faculty of International Relations of the TOBB University of Economics and Technology (Ankara), Togrul Ismail, speaking with Vestnik Kavkaza, said that such an agreement makes it possible to simplify the customs system. "The construction of the railway transport system was due to the fact that it was necessary to do everything possible to improve transport traffic through the territory of Azerbaijan and Turkey. And if these countries want to improve freight transportation, some customs procedures should be simplified. It all depends on how actively the states will take part in it. We see that Azerbaijan and Turkey have recently tried to do everything possible to create such transport corridors on their territory," the expert stressed.
Speaking about the role of the new corridor in improving the integration processes and increasing the volume of trade between countries, the economist noted that it will allow developing normal economic processes even in the conditions of the global crisis.
Asked whether Lapis Lazuli is able to become an alternative to the newly opened Baku-Tbilisi-Kars transport corridor, the expert said that in this case, any alternative should be considered only from a positive point of view. "Any competition develops economy, and any alternative always allows to take problems into account. Being closely bound up with an ally or partner is not cost-effective. I believe that an alternative is a variant of economic development," the associate professor of the Faculty of International Relations of the TOBB University of Economics and Technology (Ankara) concluded.
Head of the expert council of Baku Network Elkhan Alasgarov in the first place stressed that the need for railways always increases with the expansion of global economy. "Therefore, their creation is beneficial to all countries, not only those with railways, but also to their neighbors who can join these railways," he said.
The expert also recalled that the process of creating railways is accompanied by the unification of taxation.
In addition, the head of the expert council of Baku Network expressed the opinion that the implementation of the Lapis Lazuli project will contribute to the development of transport and communication links, and the economic rapprochement of all countries of the region. "This is not only about Russia, Iran, Georgia and Turkey, but also states on the other side of the Caspian Sea. It will allow many countries to trade in more profitable transport communications. This project has very good prospects," the expert believes.
At the same time, he pointed out that the Lapis Lazuli project will not become an alternative to the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars transport corridor. "In principle, these ways existed before, but railways are more mobile and have more opportunities that allow to maintain economic ties between the countries," Elkhan Alasgarov said.
The head of the Center for Global Studies, Nana Devdariani, in turn, emphasized that such corridors always contribute to greater economic integration. "But the most important thing is under what terms it will be done. Especially since the participants have other economic agreements and ties. As for customs barriers, they are stipulated in a special way: there is a Customs Union, there are other unions, which regulate such issues," the expert said.
In addition, she noted that the Lapis Lazuli transport corridor will not replace Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, but rather complement it.