Sky News graph of the steep rise of UK car exports to Azerbaijan

UK Car Industry Insists 2,000% Increase in Sales to Azerbaijan Has Nothing to Do with Russia

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By Ed Conway

LONDON (Sky News) — Britain’s car industry has insisted that an unprecedented 2,000-percent increase in vehicle exports to Azerbaijan has nothing to with Russia and is explained by the fact that the former Soviet state is a “flourishing market in its own right”.

Sky analysis released on March 18 has found that the British car sector sent another £40 million worth of cars to Azerbaijan in the first month of this year, raising fresh questions about whether those cars were being sent there to circumvent sanctions on Russia.

New data from HM Revenue & Customs shows that while direct car exports to Russia remain at zero, where they have been since the imposition of sanctions in 2022, in January £43 million worth of cars were sent to Azerbaijan, the former Soviet state neighboring Russia.

That meant Azerbaijan, which hitherto had rarely made the top 75 export destinations for British cars, is now the 12th biggest foreign market, by value, for British-made cars: above Switzerland, Canada and Spain.

UK carmakers have pledged not to send cars to Russia, with sanctions formally banning the export of “dual use” items which could be repurposed as weapons in the Ukraine war. There are separate sanctions specifically banning the trade of cars worth over £42,000.

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However, Sky News analysis found last week that over precisely the same period as British car exports to Azerbaijan rose sharply, there was a near-simultaneous rise in car exports from Azerbaijan to Russia.

The average value of cars sent from the UK to Azerbaijan in trade data shows that similar increases in British exports have been seen in other former Soviet Russian neighbors, including Kazakhstan, Armenia and Georgia.

A spokesman from Britain’s motoring lobby group, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), said it had detected no evidence the vehicles being sent to Azerbaijan were destined for Russia – and that they were evidence that it was a “flourishing market in its own right”.

“UK vehicle exports to Azerbaijan – as to many countries globally – have increased due to a number of factors, not least a flourishing economy, new model launches and pent-up demand,” it said.

However, the notion that the exports were evidence of a flourishing economy stands in stark contrast to the economic data, which show that Azerbaijan’s GDP per capita has been flat for a decade and a half at around $15,000 in purchasing power parity terms.

Since two years preceding the pandemic, the value of car exports to Azerbaijan has risen by more than 2,000%. No other sizeable car market in the world has come close, save for Kazakhstan, the other Russian neighbour, whose imports of British-made cars are up 800%.

The SMMT said: “Wherever the UK automotive industry exports, it is committed to compliance with all trade and economic sanctions, and continues to work closely with government and the new Office For Sanctions to ensure the effective implementation of the regulations.

“There is no evidence available of that commitment being compromised, and it is right to monitor for any potential vulnerabilities in a fast-moving and evolving environment.

“The automotive industry remains in dialogue with government and other international partners enforcing coordinated trade restrictions, to ensure adherence to both the letter and the spirit of the sanctions, across all vulnerable sectors.”

While the sheer number of cars going to Azerbaijan is small, the value of those cars is consistently high, averaging well over £100,000 and suggesting they are mostly luxury cars.

There have been similar flows detected from other European nations, including Germany and Poland, to other former Soviet states neighboring Russia.

Following the original Sky News story last week, Foreign Office Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said car companies should examine their orders to ensure they are complying with sanctions rules.

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