An interview with Georgia’s Ambassador to Ukraine Mikheil Ukleba
The government’s desire to strengthen the economic aspect of diplomacy was named the main reason for appointing the Minister of Economy of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili as the head the Foreign Ministry. New Economy Minister Dmitry Kumsiashvili said that ambassadors to various countries should help Georgia in attracting foreign investments. Do you have a specific plan at this point? What do you intend to do?
The economic dimension plays an important role in the activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. As is known, Ukraine is one of our major partners of Georgia, despite the difficult situation in the country; it occupies the 5th place in the list of trading partners. In addition, Ukraine is of great significance for Georgia in terms of attracting tourists – in this index, it also occupies the 5th place after Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey and Russia – and this is despite the fact that Georgia and Ukraine have no land border. For 7 months of 2015, Georgia was visited by 75 000 tourists from Ukraine.
In 2014, the number of tourists from Ukraine amounted to 143 thousand, in 2013 – 126 000 – that is, we are talking about annual growth dynamics.
Of course, today the purchasing power of the population in Ukraine has declined due to the almost 3-fold devaluation of the hryvnia. At the time, the loss of the Crimea has increased interest in Georgia as a friendly country. Therefore, despite the economic difficulties we still hope that the number of Ukrainian tourists will not be less than last year.
With regard to trade with Ukraine, it has declined – in 7 months of 2015 turnover amounted to $290 million, while in 2014 – 870 million, in 2013 – $780 million. This year the trade turnover has declined substantially in the backdrop of the current situation. You cannot name me any country whose trade turnover with Ukraine has not decreased.
Despite all this, we are conducting a very active policy of attracting investment, developing tourism and investment. For example, banner advertising Georgia as a tourist destination hang around Kiev. By the way, this is also a merit of travel agencies. Banners hang not only in Kiev, but also all over the country in all major cities.
In addition, we often hold presentations of various tourist destinations, for example, Batumi- Kiev business forum was held last year where tourist potential of Adjara was presented. In addition, the real estate market at the Black Sea coast of Georgia was presented – this topic is of great interest here, as many Ukrainians are buying housing in Batumi and other cities of the coast.
With regard to investments, in spite of the difficult economic situation, the Ukrainian business is actively interested in the Georgian market. For example, the company Redko acquired the building of the University of Technology in Batumi – the object was purchased for $ 25 million, including the investment commitments worth $ 15 million.
Ukrainian investments are made in agriculture and the hospitality industry. So, in spite of everything the process is still going on, and we are actively working in this direction.
What else do you plan to do in this regard?
We are actively working with the media, organize a variety of events, including days of Georgia in large shopping centers of the country.
Do Georgian businessmen apply to you because of a decreased export to Ukraine?
No one addressed us on this issue. There is a problem, and it is that our export products are calculated in US dollars, respectively, it is too expensive for the population of Ukraine, which purchasing power has sharply reduced. This factor certainly exists and now everything depends on the flexibility of the exporting companies.
In general, the activity of the Georgian business in Ukraine has decreased due to fragile economic situation that scares investors.
What is the image of Georgia in Ukraine?
Very positive. Georgia is regarded as a country that has managed to conduct successful reforms that is a big plus. We passed many stages in the construction of the state and democratic institutions, and it is a great advantage in the eyes of Ukrainians. When we present all this, Ukrainian public perceives it very positively.
Many Ukrainian companies are asking us to help them find partners in Georgia. We send the corresponding request to the Ministry of Economics, from there we get a list of potential partners with whom Ukrainian businessmen could cooperate.