There has been no change in the relations between Russian and Georgian businessmen, the Georgian prime minister’s special representative for Russia relations, Zurab Abashidze, said.
“No particular change is taking place in the relations between Russian and Georgian businessmen, except their rising interest in developing business cooperation,” he said, while assessing two business meetings between representatives from Russian and Georgian companies, which were held in Tbilisi in November (the first one was organized by the Georgian Employers’ Association, the second by the two countries’ chambers of industry and commerce), in his response to a question from a journalist on the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s First Channel television on Wednesday.
“Today over 1,000 companies, either with entirely Russian capital or with mixed Georgian-Russia capital, or with Georgian-Russian capital and third-country capital, are registered and operating unhindered in Georgia. So there is nothing new about it,” Abashidze said.
These companies have been in Georgia for many years, he said. “Ever since the early 1990s, and they felt comfortable here during the most difficult period – during, before and after the war,” Abashidze said, stressing that Georgia continued importing Russian goods without any limitations even during the 2008 conflict.
In 2015, Georgia’s exports to Russia rose by 18% and imports from Russia rose by 15%. In the first nine-month period of 2016 bilateral trade reached $612 million, or 7% of Georgia’s total foreign trade, the Georgian diplomat recalled. “Of course, the figure is not very big but the progress is obvious,” Abashidze said.
When asked how stable Georgian business guarantees are on the Russian market, with the visa requirements and no diplomatic relations currently existing between Georgia and Russia, Abashidze recalled that both countries are members of the World Trade Organization and their business relations are regulated mainly by international rules. Furthermore, Russia and Georgia have their interests represented at special sections at the Swiss embassies both in Tbilisi and in Moscow.
At the same time, restoration of diplomatic relations is not currently on the agenda for many reasons, primarily due to the unresolved problems relating to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but that does not mean that trade, transport links and humanitarian relations should not be developed, he said.
“Since the beginning of this year, around one million Russian tourists have already visited Georgia. As for visas, still required by Russia, the requirements are significantly relaxed from January and now not only close relatives but any Russian person or legal entity may invite a Georgian citizen. Visa issuance has also been made much easier, as a result of which the number of Georgian citizens visiting Russia has doubled and even tripled,” Abashidze said.
Georgia severed diplomatic relations with Russia in August of 2008. Representatives of the new Georgian government, which came to power in October 2012, said normalization of relations with Russia was among their chief priorities. At present, dialogue between the two countries is maintained in the framework of Geneva discussions and Abashidze’s regular meetings in Prague with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin.