Government, winemakers push for talks on Russian embargo
By Christina Tashkevich
Friday, January 18
The Interior Ministry sent a letter to Russia’s chief sanitation official yesterday, emphasizing Tbilisi’s willingness to negotiate on the nearly two-year-old Russian ban of Georgian agricultural products.
The letter, signed by Georgian winemakers, requested a joint Georgian-Russian commission to inspect the quality of Georgian wine and mineral water.
“We are talking about all Georgian products returning to the [Russian] market, including agricultural products, and not just wines and mineral waters,” Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili clarified to journalists on January 16.
“If there is the political will to decide on this, all technical issues could be settled without problems,” he added.
Moscow banned wine imports from both Georgia and Moldova in early 2006, citing sanitation concerns. Georgian officials and many observers, however, called the embargo politically motivated.
Possibilities of lifting the Russian trade embargo on Georgian wines and agricultural exports were raised when Russia’s chief sanitation official, Gennady Onischenko, said last week that his agency is ready to negotiate a return of Georgian products.
Speaking to Russian radio station “Ekho Moskvy” on January 8, Onischenko said Russian authorities could follow the compromises made with Moldova, which he said include inspecting the wine at the place of production.
“If [Georgia] wishes, we are ready to work in the same regime as we did with Moldova, going out to inspect on-site,” Onischenko said.
Moldova resumed wine exports to Russia in November 2007, a year after President Putin officially announced the end of the ban.
The embargo delivered a painful blow to Georgian winemakers, as around 80 percent of their exports went to Russia.
At a cabinet meeting earlier this month, Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze reaffirmed that Georgia is ready to start negotiations with Russia on lifting the embargo.
“We should decide on the format…with which to resume dialogue on lifting the embargo on our [wine and mineral water] production and its return to the Russian market,” Gurgenidze said.
Vadim Drobiz, director of a Russian alcohol market research center, suggests Georgian wines are set to reappear in Russian shops. He told Russian journalists that Moscow would work on bringing back Georgian wines the same way it worked with Moldova.
“This is not an easy way, but I think Georgian wines will get to Russian shops by the next New Year’s holidays, or even earlier,” Drobiz told journalists on January 15.