Just before the end of 2016, final decisions were made to grant Georgia a visa-free regime with the EU. In addition to the tangible result of Georgia’s European integration, this decision positions Georgia to become a hub of energy, data, goods, capital, services, and talent, connecting several world regions. That is a big role for a small country and a young democracy, but Georgia is up to the task
Georgia must now rise to the challenge of politically defining the significance of its location or risk that its location will determine the politics of the country. Georgia is determined never again to let that happen. This is why our relationship to Washington has been indispensable.
In the early 1990s, the South Caucasus was envisaged as a corridor for the energy resources of the Caspian basin and, perhaps, of Central Asia. In time, what came into being was a smaller but scalable project that bound together Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, untapped the riches of the Caspian and, in the future, could become a hedge for Europe’s energy supply. Ambitious ideas have a life of their own.
There are some who still dwell on the perceived failure of the Nabucco project. But, the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline project followed much of the same route, bringing Caspian resources to Europe — particularly to Southeastern Europe which is dependent on Russia for over 90% of its natural gas needs.
It is worth noting that vision to carve out a role for the region in the European landscape came from Washington. Washington listened to local aspirations and facilitated the gathering of regional, European, and global stakeholders to work together towards a future that would fortify the processes of democratization, liberalization, and development. Beyond building pipelines, Washington hoped to harness relationships. And that vision has materialized.
For some time now, the region and the energy-honed relationship has had a life of its own. The three countries have gone on to build a regional electricity market on the foundations of a grid funded by European institutional investors. The South Caucasus is the last leg of a 12-day trip from China to Europe. As bullet speed trains are reanimating the ancient Silk Road the region is making its pitch to the world as an industrial hub, with cheap electricity, low regulation, competitive corporate taxation rates, an educated workforce, and necessary infrastructure.
In February 2016, the Government of Georgia selected a US-Georgia Consortium for the development of the Anaklia deep sea port. The €3,3bn project will be the only one of its kind on the eastern shores of the Black Sea that can be reached by Panamax-size ships. That creates a maritime direct Launch Pad from Central Europe to the Middle East and China. In the short run, the port will connect Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kirgizstan, and Tajikistan, to the west. In the medium run, Anaklia is the port of convenience for a minimum of 146 million people. In the long term, Anaklia is a global gate from emerging to developed economies.
Beyond joint ventures, the political landscape in Georgia still bears the marks of Washington’s formative involvement in its development and the two nations share a common world view. Now, as Georgia carves out its own space in the emerging economic environment. Georgia is building on its DCFTA agreement with the EU, EFTA, FTAs with CIS countries, including Russia and Turkey, to speed up the process of concluding a Free Trade Agreement with China. Market access is matched by a low taxation, low regulation, and high transparency regime, of the kind that makes Georgia one of the easiest places to do business in the world, according to the World Bank.
The vision driving all these efforts to promote economic, energy, and infrastructure interconnectedness is a safer and peaceful region.
This “can-do,” pro-business, problem-solving attitude that views regulation as the software that unleashes the creative spirits of entrepreneurship was born in the early days of Georgian independence and further advanced in recent years With an eye towards the future, Georgia is not building trade links to the world merely to sell its wine, mineral water, honey, or fruit that its 3.8 million person economy can produce. We envision a future where Georgia transcends its size and geography to attain greater significance in the global economy and forges ahead with politically defining the importance of its location.
David Bakradze, Minister of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Georgia for neweurope.eu