ALL ROADS LEAD TO GEORGIA
Georgia is beginning to come under investors’ radar in the wake of recent economic reforms, says its ambassador to Singapore, His Excellency Irakli Asashvili.
Nestled within the breathtaking Caucasus mountain ranges, Georgia may be a country small in size, but one that holds a world of wonder within its boundaries. Having recently launched a wave of new reforms to further improve its business climate, it is set to welcome more businesses and investors with open arms. Championing this mission in Southeast Asia is the recently appointed Georgian Ambassador to Singapore, His Excellency Irakli Asashvili.
A Diplomatic Economist
Ambassador Asashvili is a distinguished Georgian diplomat with an educational background specializing in International Business and Foreign Trade. Having been in Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for almost 20 years, he has taken charge of Georgia’s missions abroad and held various high-ranking positions including Consul General.
Aside from being the Georgian ambassador to Singapore, he is also the ambassador to Indonesia, the Philippines, and Timor-Leste, as well as the Georgian representative to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The ambassador’s illustrious career also saw him receiving the Order of Honour by the President of Georgia in 2013 for his contributions to the development of the country.
The Ambassador inspecting the Guard of Honour on a recent visit to Singapore
A Hundred Years In Making
While Georgia was subject to a turbulent political past, the nation has grown by leaps and bounds since its early days, as Ambassador Asashvili explains, “Georgia’s Independence Day is celebrated on 26 May, which marks the day of declaration of independence from the Russian Empire in 1918 and establishment of the first democratic republic. Unfortunately, after three years of independence, in 1921, Georgia was occupied by Soviet Russia for the next 70 years until we regained independence in 1991.”
2018 marked Georgia’s 100th anniversary of the proclamation of the first democratic republic. However, it was Georgia’s second victory of independence that started a new democratic transformation. “In the last 15 years, Georgia undertook revolutionary anti-corruption, institutional and economic reforms that quickly transformed it into a successful, fast developing nation with a favourable business environment and one of the lowest corruption rates in the world,” the Ambassador notes. In parallel to these achievements, Georgia also worked to reform all sectors of public service, from security and tax administration to healthcare and education, resulting in significant social and economic progress. The high level of the Georgian government’s accountability and transparency has led the country to gain much international recognition.
Investment Opportunities Abound
With multiple progressive economic policies and reforms in the pipeline, it comes as no surprise that Georgia is steadily becoming the preferred destination for businesses and investors alike. According to the World Bank Doing Business 2019 report, Georgia is ranked 6th among 190 countries in terms of ease of doing business, up from 9th place in the previous year. Other international accolades include being placed 8th in the World Economic Forum’s Lowest Tax Rates 2018;16th place in Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom 2018; and 22nd in PWC’s Simplicity of Paying Taxes 2018 report.
“The government’s economic policies will be oriented to the implementation of innovative reforms to ensure free, fair, inclusive and sustainable development of the country. For instance, we intend to establish an integrated system for managing all investment projects in Georgia and further improve fiscal governance,” the Ambassador states.
Other indicators of the favourable business climate in Georgia are the efficient bureaucracy, low corruption rates, free trade agreements with major economies, and tax benefits enjoyed by companies set up in the Free Economic Zones. In addition, the low crime rates, skilled labour force, and the well-developed infrastructure are further incentives for prospective investors. With the government of Georgia aiming to reach the top 10 positions in most international rankings, Ambassador Asashvili hopes that Georgia “becomes a popular destination for foreign investments. “I am happy to see growing interest from Singaporean companies in this regard,” he adds.
A Shift Towards The EU
Situated between Europe and Asia, Georgia exists as a delightful mix of European modernity and Asian culturalism. However, its denizens predominantly consider themselves European, and one of Georgia’s main foreign policy goals is full integration into the European Union (EU). “Today, Georgia has an association agreement with the EU, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) that was signed in 2016, and represents the framework for political and economic integration of Georgia into the EU,” says the Ambassador. With ongoing political dialogue and continual efforts to improve communication and mobility, Georgia is well on track to officially joining the EU soon.
Since 2017, Georgian citizens have also been granted visa free travel to the Schengen region. The 2008 decision to integrate Georgia as a member of the NATO alliance in the future has further reinforced these relations internationally. “Even before membership, Georgia represents an important partner of the alliance in strengthening international security,” states Ambassador Asashvili.
Restoring Traditional Ties
Alongside its efforts to join the EU, Georgia has also been actively developing its relationship and partnerships with ASEAN member states since the last decade. With the establishment of embassies in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, Georgia has further cemented their commitment to friendly ties and larger economic engagement with all member states of ASEAN. The presentation of the first Georgian ambassador’s credentials to the ASEAN Secretary-General in 2013 and the cooperation with the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) have also bolstered the bilateral relations with ASEAN.
The last five years have seen Georgia experience a breakthrough in the growth of its ties with Southeast Asian states, particularly Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, and Malaysia. “We consider this only a beginning to the greater enhancement of cooperation with all countries in the region, for which we have clear goals and strategies for the coming years,” reveals Ambassador Asashvili.
Georgia And The World
“Historically, Georgia has always played an important role in connecting the East, West, North and South. Given its location and infrastructure, Georgia has great potential to become a regional hub for transit and logistics,” explains Ambassador Asashvili. In 2015, Georgia and China signed an important agreement to cooperate on the development of the landmark Silk Road Economic Belt initiative. Georgia has been a participant of other such transport corridor initiatives in the past, including the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, and remains open to participate in similar projects in the future.
Another important strategic partner for Georgia is the US. The main mechanism of cooperation and development between the two countries is the signing of a charter on Strategic Partnership in 2009. Apart from active US support towards Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration, the two countries enjoy strong trade and economic relations, which are set to be boosted with the conclusion of a bilateral Free Trade Agreement in the future.
Ambassador Asashvili (second from left) at Georgia's 100th Anniversary of the First Democratic Republic celebrations in Indonesia
To New Beginnings
Ambassador Asashvili may be a relatively new ambassador to the region, but he is certainly no stranger to it. In his time as a diplomat, he has long observed Georgia’s huge potential for cooperation with Singapore and other countries under the Georgian Embassy’s coverage. “I am very happy to be posted in the Southeast Asia region, and remain motivated to exert every effort to take Georgian relations to a substantially new level. I look forward to witnessing numerous new achievements in the coming months and years."
This article was first printed in MillionaireAsia Issue 50 - Dec 2018