People wave national flags celebrating Azerbaijan’s President Ilhan Aliyev’s victory in the presidential election in Baku, Azerbaijan (AP), via PAPeople wave national flags celebrating Azerbaijan’s President Ilhan Aliyev’s victory in the presidential election in Baku, Azerbaijan (AP), via PA


The curious case of the 2,264% increase in exports of cars from the UK to Azerbaijan

  • Why has Azerbaijan suddenly become such a popular destination for British cars?
  • SMMT says it’s partly because of the republic’s ‘flourishing economy’
  • But Sky News says evidence shows that GDP there has basically remained flat
  • Is the Putin-endorsing country being used to circumvent sanctions?

Time 6:29 am, March 23, 2024

The SMMT has denied that an explosion of car exports from the UK to Azerbaijan has anything to do with avoiding trade sanctions against Russia.

An investigation by Sky News has discovered that during the exact same period that car exports from here to the republic soared, there was an almost simultaneous increase in vehicle exports from there to Russia.

It said that HM Revenue & Customs data showed that there had been no direct exports of cars from the UK to Russia since sanctions were imposed in 2o22 following its invasion of Ukraine in February of that year.

However, latest figures show that cars worth £43m went to neighbouring Azerbaijan in January this year, suddenly making it the 12th most valuable foreign market when previously it rarely made the top 75.

Ed Conway, Sky News’s economics and data editor, said: ‘A lot of people are saying…when those Russian sanctions were imposed, a lot of people started sending cars or importing cars via Azerbaijan.’

However, the SMMT disagrees with the theory that the spike in exports has been an attempt to avoid sanctions.

It said in a statement to Sky News: ‘Wherever the UK automotive industry exports, it is committed to compliance with all trade and economic sanctions.

‘There is no evidence available of that commitment being compromised.’

It added: ‘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.’

Sky News countered that, though, by saying that if Azerbaijan’s economy really was flourishing, then there’d be a large rise in its gross domestic product (GDP).

However, although car exports from the UK to Azerbaijan had shot up since 2022, its GDP per capita had pretty much remained flat.

Turning to the trade body’s point about the global increase in exports, Conway referenced HMRC data relating to the change in UK car exports since 2018/19.

It showed that while Russia languished at the bottom of the chart, Azerbaijan was way ahead of every other country to take top position with a massive spike of 2,264%.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan – which is another of Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbours – was in second place at 800%.

Sky News said it raised questions as to whether the cars were being sent to the countries because their economies were so healthy or were they in fact going there to get round sanctions and on to Russia.

Analysis by Sky News using HMRC figures also found the UK sent £273m-worth of vehicles to Azerbaijan last year – 1,860% up on the five years before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The unprecedented increase was similar in size to yearly exports of cars to Russia during the two years ahead of sanctions being imposed.

Sky News added that UN international trade data showed that over exactly the same time period that the UK enjoyed the ‘unprecedented increase in car exports to Azerbaijan’, the latter country – which recently held a ‘restrictive’ presidential election – coincidentally ‘recorded an unprecedented increase in car exports to Russia’.

It said sources had told it that although car buyers in Russia seeking German vehicles had them mainly sent via Kyrgyzstan, they preferred British cars to come via Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan, which congratulated Vladimir Putin on his recent landslide victory in the Russian elections, was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1920 but declared independence in 1991 and is now a semi-presidential republic.

Ilhan Aliyev secured a landslide victory in Azerbaijan’s presidential election in February, but The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said it took place in a restrictive environment with no real political competition.

Pictured at top: People in Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku wave national flags to celebrate Ilhan Aliyev’s victory in the presidential election. Image credit: AP, via PA

John Bowman's avatar

John has been with Car Dealer since 2013 after spending 25 years in the newspaper industry as a reporter then a sub-editor/assistant chief sub-editor on regional and national titles. John is chief sub-editor in the editorial department, working on Car Dealer, as well as handling social media.

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