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Minister talks but hardly anyone listens

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, July 22
Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Vera Kobalia opened a special conference dedicated to stimulating the growth of Georgian exports, especially to the United States, at the Hotel Tbilisi Marriott on July 21. Economists, agricultural sector businessmen and various officials were invited and introduced to the standards which should be followed in order to facilitate the growth of exports. The conference was jointly organised by the Ministry of Economic and Sustainable Development and the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia.

“The US offers export privileges to 4,000 types of product from Georgia, which is a good motivation for entrepreneurs to work on exporting to the United States. Georgian companies should know that the product must be wrapped well; they should know how a product aimed for export should look. This is a very important step forward for Georgian economic advance,” Kobalia stated.

Despite the fact the conference was directly connected with the Georgian business sector only a few businessmen attended it, which aroused the ire of the Minister. She stated after the conference, "I am interested in knowing why Georgian business sector representatives refused to participate in this conference. Either 9 a.m. is too early for them or they are not interested in export issues. If the Georgian businessman’s morning does not start earlier than 12:00 we will see no serious positive moves in the economy,” Kobalia said.

Kobalia also announced a structural reorganisation at the Ministry. "We are announcing the following openings at the Ministry – for the Chairs of the Departments of Legal Issues, Administration, Finance, State Procurement and Logistics, State Property Management Policy and Communications, the IT and Innovations Department’s Postal Connection Division and the Department for Relations with Territorial Branches of the Privatisation Department. The position of Tourism Department Chair is also vacant and a new postholder will be appointed by August 5,” Kobalia said. She added that the Ministry would follow a new policy of zero nepotism and being related to someone else in the Ministry would not mean you are appointed to any position. "We will accept people who want to contribute to the economic development of the country, because we have a goal to strengthen the economy, tourism and small businesses and attract more investments,” the Minister stated.

The Georgian business sector has also been criticised by Vice Speaker of Parliament Mikheil Machavariani, who says that Georgian business representatives made little contribution to work on the new tax code. "Unfortunately, the Georgian business sector was very passive concerning the new tax code, which was mainly drafted to help businessmen. The business sector should be more actively involved in discussion of the project, holding press conferences on the issue is not enough,” Machavariani said.

Economic analyst Nodar Khaduri has told The Messenger, "it is important to specify which products will be privileged if expored to the United States, as we also have some privileges from the European Union, but products privileged by the EU are not produced in Georgia at all. It also should be underlined what kind of privileges these are, tariffs or some other kind. The most important thing for developing Georgian exports is non-tariff privileges as Georgian products do not face tarriff-related problems in foreign markets,” Khaduri said. "I cannot say exactly why businessmen were so uninterested in this conference, but as far as I know, they have held several conferences at which they nearly idolised the new tax code. The reason might be their lack of trust in the present authorities and conferences they call,” Khaduri said.