By Claude Salhani
Senior editor of the English service of Trend Agency
An indication of how successful a country is likely to function in the world of free trade and commerce may be found in the ease or difficulty in that country's bureaucracy. And what better measure of any country's bureaucracy than dealing with the purgatory of most bureaucracies, typically a country's customs and postal systems.
Maybe it is just the way many people have been programmed to think about certain countries under certain circumstances. We expect the Swiss to provide good banking, and honest policemen; we expect the French to provide excellent chefs (Jean-Christophe Novelli, Paul Bocuse, Raymond Blanc) and stylish clothes (Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior, Ted Lapidus, Daniel Hechter) and we expect Italians to give us great cars (Lamborghini, Mazeratti), and lousy politicians.
But what can a foreigner expect in a former Soviet socialist republic in the Caucasus? A Soviet-styled bureaucratic nightmare compounded by Levantine corruption?
In Azerbaijan nothing could be further away from the truth. What one finds in Azerbaijan is the minimum amount of bureaucracy with very little paperwork, efficiency compiled with honesty and a business sense, that while operationally differs from what one may be accustomed to in the West, still works well, at least where the customs and postal services are concerned.
This reporter always wanted to own a drum set but never did, due to a) cost, b) space, and/or c) noise that is associated with the playing of drums.
Some years ago someone had the brilliant idea to develop electronic drums. Electronic drums produce sounds equal, if not superior to, conventional drums. They plug into either an amplifier or if you want to keep the neighbors content, into a headset, where only the person wearing the headset can hear the actual drums. Someone in the same room will hear a dull muffled sound of the drumsticks hitting thick rubber. The neighbors will not even know you have drums.
That took care of b and c, the size and noise issues. There was still the high price tag. However, as modern technology became more current and computers became cheaper and smaller, and when labor was outsourced to cheap Asian labor, the price of electronics decreased sharply.
Last week this reporter finally caved-in to his life-long urge and went shopping for a set of electronic drums in Baku. A quick search on the Internet revealed that a music store in central Baku carried that item. When asked to try out the drums, the music store refused to open the box saying the item could be seen on the Internet.
Somewhat reluctant to dish out 800 manats ($1,129) without seeing the item first, I went home and did turn to the Internet. I was taken to another web site, this one in Germany, where the very same item was being sold at less than half the price. A quick phone call to the music store in Germany confirmed that delivery in Baku was not a problem and would take 10 to 12 business days. Having waited almost a life time, waiting another 10-12 days to save more that $500 was acceptable.
A week later I received a phone call from someone who simply said "Posta." The way this works is that the seller ships via DHL courier service, which then transfers the goods to the Azerbaijani postal service. They then deliver it to the post office closest to your home.
Since I am a newly arrived foreigner unable to communicate in the local language, the clerk at the post office was kind enough to type the amount I owed into a calculator. She typed 36, so I handed her 36 manats. She smiled, returning most of the money. She wanted 3 manats 60 kopecks.
I know of many other countries where the clerk would have pocketed the difference.
This exercise in fact proves that the local market now faces direct competition from other regions of the world. Azerbaijan is now part of a world trading zone where local businesses must adjust their prices to be competitive with those available online.
This is the new reality of global shopping. And as countries of the region join to create the new Eurasian landmass, the market will expand even further, creating new horizons.
This is where the future becomes the lucrative present. And the present can already be found in the opening chapters of the region's future history books.
This is shopping without borders.