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The one-day Bristol Business Conference took place on October 12 as one element of an on-going celebration of the Twinship enjoyed between Bristol (a city in south-west England) and Tbilisi.

The conference was arranged by the Bristol Tbilisi Association in partnership with TBC Bank on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Bristol- Tbilisi twinning agreement signed in 1988, with the aim of approximating ties in culture and business. In attendance were British business owners, investors and numerous expats living in Georgia who are investing in the development of infrastructure or society in some form.

"It is our honor to welcome our guests from Britain," Mayor Kakha Kaladze said, opening the conference. "It is a significant day for Georgia and for Tbilisi. I met with the Mayor of Bristol and discussed transport, infrastructure and other ways in which experience can be shared. Bristol is an example city for us. In 2015, it was awarded the title of Green City of the Year. We have significant challenges in this regard- in terms of the environment, for which we have many plans, some of which my colleague will present later today. In terms of the business environment in Georgia- we pride ourselves on our achievements in the field, being in the top rankings of various reputable international organizations in transparency, protection of private property and more. We take care of every cent invested in Tbilisi. I thank you for your present and potential engagement in the economy of the country and wish you every success."

Jane Oakland, the Master of the Guild of Guardians in Bristol, took to the stage to thank the hosts and organizers for giving British investors a chance to discover the potential of Georgia and Tbilisi.

"Our job at the Guild is to enhance the trade, commerce and traditions of our city. This covers financial services, banking, education, and other areas of interest in the city," she said. "In the last six months, you can hardly turn on the TV or radio in the UK without hearing a leading actor, politician or musician talking about their experiences in Tbilisi and Georgia. We're very pleased to be a part of that journey of development."

The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, George Sharvashidze then spoke extensively on Georgia's path of development and success, citing its place in international rankings and the increasing number of annual visitors, as well as its achievements and plans for further development.

“I would like to stress the role of the UK as a true friend and supporter of Georgia. We undoubtedly consider the UK a strategic partner, sharing common interests, values and, indeed, challenges. Through our comprehensive bilateral agenda, I would like to highlight the UK’s contribution to supporting Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. The UK has been among Georgia’s top investors for a number of years, in particular according to the data of January-July, it is the 2nd largest investor. We enjoy an exemplary partnership with BP, which has been operating here for over 20 years and has played a special role in shaping Georgia’s geopolitical role as a transit state. With Brexit on the horizon, Georgia is keen to explore emerging opportunities to deepen our cooperation with the UK and we do believe economic ties and fostering B2B dialogue will play a significant role in forming our post-Brexit relations,” he said, going on to note that Georgia continues on its path to EU integration and devotes utmost efforts to affecting implementation of the EU Association Agreement.

“The DCFTA opened up new opportunities to attract investment, bring more technology know-how, and to create new jobs and prospects for our citizens. With the current negotiations underway, we must try to come up with a new formula that will ensure clarity and predictability in our bilateral trade relations,” Sharvashidze noted. “As well as integration to the Euro-Atlantic space, we’re keen to develop close economic ties with the Asian countries, such as China, and to become a regional hub for trade and investments.”

He recognized that Georgia is a relatively small market to fully utilize economies of scale and increase competitiveness from a global market standpoint, but highlighted that it serves as a window to a number of markets, among them the economies of Central Asia and the Far East, providing physical access through modern transport infrastructure and normative access in terms of free trade agreements.

“We also have in place free trade agreements with China, Turkey, all post-Soviet countries and GSP regimes with the US, Canada and Japan. We are launching FTA negotiations with India this year, while Israel and Indonesia will follow in 2019.”

The conference attendees then heard that the Government of Georgia is focused on strengthening the transit function of the country, carrying out major infrastructural projects such as the construction and development of the East-West Highway, modern railway infrastructure, and the Anaklia Deep Sea Port, the works for which began in December 2017, which will also facilitate the development of Anaklia City and the economic zone next to the port.

“We offer one of the best public services in the region,” Sharvashidze emphasized. “Low tax rates, corruption free and the most simple and affective customs and administrative system. Thanks to the implemented reform, currently Georgia has one of the most business-friendly environments in the world, highlighted as such by a number of respected institutions.”

Indeed, the World Bank rates Georgia 9th by Ease of Doing Business, the Fraser Institute ranks Georgia 7th in Index of Economic Freedom and the World Economic Forum rates Georgia as 9th least tax-worthy country in the world.

“We have dramatically improved our positions in various indices such as in macroeconomic environment,” the Deputy Foreign Minister told the audience. “To ensure these positive trends, the Prime Minister of Georgia has initiated a new wave of reforms- this year we already introduced tax changes to support SMEs, the manufacturing sector as well as investments. At the beginning of 2019, we’re introducing a digital customs reform, the first of its kind in the region. While our trade turnover with the UK in each month of this year increased year-on-year, we believe there is untapped potential and ample opportunities for trade between our countries.”

By Katie Ruth Davies

15 October 2018 16:47
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