Georgia a young nation with a long history celebrated the 24th anniversary of its Independence on May 26th. In this short span since its independence the country has marched forward in both progress and development overcoming the many challenges it faced. In an exclusive and candid interview the suave and well spoken Ambassador of Georgia to Kuwait H.E. Roland Beridze, spoke to The Times about his country’s relations with Kuwait and some of the challenges still facing Georgia.
Having joined the diplomatic service in 1982 after graduating from the Institute of Foreign Languages in Tbilisi, H.E. Ambassador Roland Beridze has had a distinguished career in foreign service rising from the ranks of second secretary to chief of protocol of the ministry and also doing a posting in the embassy in Washington.
He then took a hiatus of about 11 years serving as the vice-president of the Georgian Airways. Before rejoining the foreign ministry, Ambassador Roland also took a sabbatical to do a Mastership Degree in Public Policy at the prestigious Princeton University in New Jersey. In 2014, he was appointed as the ambassador of Georgia to Kuwait which marked a substantial turn in his career full of high responsibility and special interest.
“I am honoured to represent Georgia in Kuwait, which was the first country in the GCC region to establish diplomatic relations with Georgia after it gained independence in 1991,” stated Ambassador Beridze in his opening remarks, pointing that Kuwait has always firmly supported Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of challenges that his country has been exposed during these 24 years. He further added that he hopes to make a contribution to deepening of the strong and friendly ties that have developed with Kuwait and promote our relations to the level of close bilateral cooperation.
The top priority of Georgia today are de-occupation, reconciliation with the population of the occupied territories, return of the refugees and IDPs to their homes as well as engagement of these territories in the process of reforms implemented in Georgia and aimed at boosting growth and welfare of the society. On this note Ambassador Beridze stated that his country was extremely grateful to Kuwait and H.H. the Amir Sheikh Sabah for the support extended to Georgia during the military aggression of August 2008 and the generous humanitarian aid provided by Kuwait in times of dire need. This continuous commitment of H.H. the Amir to the humanitarian cause has been highly recognised by the international community by honouring him as the global humanitarian leader.
“Kuwait and Georgia have enjoyed good and stable relations based on the common approach to the majority of international issues and shared understanding that peaceful cooperation is the cornerstone of the continuous development for the benefit of both nations," Ambassador Beridze pointed out.
Both nations have signed various bilateral agreements that serve as the basis for development of political, economic and business ties. “We have a number of agreements in the pipeline which are expected to be signed in the near future,” Ambassador disclosed and said the agreement on establishing the joint committee for cooperation between the two countries represents the framework of promotion and coordination of relations between both countries. The invigorated process of consultations between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, shall provide a mechanism for regular exchange of positions and views on multiple issues of mutual concern. Exchange of high-level state and governmental visits is extremely important, which will set the pace for the enhanced contacts in various fields, including cultural, economic and humanitarian relations.
A high point in the relations was the first ever visit to Georgia of a delegation from the Kuwait National Assembly Friendship group, led by chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee H.E. Hamad Saif Al Harashani, from April 9 to 14 this year. The visit provided an immense opportunity to establish direct contact with their counterparts in the Georgian parliament, share views of bilateral relations on all levels and set up plans for the future cooperation while acclimatising with the culture and tradition.
Elaborating on his country’s progress Ambassador Beridze said that they have made substantial progress in terms of economic growth having implemented key reforms in governance and taxation, business environment and carried out highly successful campaign against red tape and corruption in public sector.
In 2013, Georgia’s nominal GDP reached $16 billion and $3,600 per capita. Georgia’s investment climate is one of the most investor friendly in the region and according to a recent World Bank report the country is ranked 15 in the ease of doing business. The Heritage Foundation ranks Georgia as 22nd in Economic Freedom Index.
Ambassador pointed out that 2014 became a historical milestone in Georgian nation building process when together with Ukraine and Moldova they signed an Association Agreement with the European Union. This confirmed the determination of the Georgian people to embark on the path of political association and economic integration with Europe and represents one of their main directions of foreign policy.
Within this framework of proximity Georgia has also met the requirements of the first phase of Visa Liberalisation Action Plan and practically concluded the fulfilment of the second phase priorities and they expect this to be finalised by the end of this year which will allow them a visa free regime with the EU.
Georgia is unleashing large scale development programmes in the near future and Ambassador Beridze spoke about the Silk Road global project that has been initiated by China and supported by a large number of countries both in Asia and Europe, including Kuwait. “It is the most ambitious large scale international project and has the potential to become a limitless resource for economic development and political stability of many countries,” he pointed out.
Under the patronage of Prime Minister in October 2015 Georgia will be hosting the annual Tbilisi Silk Road Forum, which shall become the venue for generating and attracting new initiatives and ideas, for enriching the common idea with new components. “Georgia welcomes the leaders and high level officials from the countries of the region to participate in this very representative forum,” he further stated.
During the interview Ambassador Beridze gave a comprehensive and elaborate overview of Georgian economy and political issues that the country has tackled. Georgian investment environment improved considerably in recent years with fewer taxes and simplified procedures for starting business. Significant efforts are undertaken by the Georgian Government to attract foreign direct investments in the country. Foreign investments are steadily growing and were at a 5 year high in 2014. However, there is still a huge potential for their further increase.
Significant infrastructure projects have been designed and are offered for tenders, while providing the most favorable conditions for the foreign investment with no limitations in foreign ownership. The project of the deep water port of Anakliaat the Black Sea coast is one of such projects and it shall become the primary addition to the four existing ports of Georgia. It will provide the capacity to receive Panamax and VLC vessels and ensure efficient and fast handling of the rapidly increasing turnover between Europe and Asia.
“We look forward to expansion of investments in energy sector, transportation, manufacturing and tourism infrastructure and we welcome Kuwaiti business people to utilize this unprecedented opportunity through their participation in the economic development of Georgia,” Ambassador Beridze elaborated
Speaking on tourism, which is one of the fastest growing sectors of Georgian economy, he pointed at the immensely beautiful landscape and climate the country is blessed with, from fantastic mountain scenery to green valleys, forests, lakes and seaside beaches, spas, where tourists are treated to an unforgettable experience of Georgian hospitality.
“Tourists from Kuwait are doubling each year and the share of tourism is about 6.5% of the GDP with the potential for further growth immense. The interest toward our country is growing and it is understandable, whereas its climate is mild, people are extremely friendly and hospitable, the tourism infrastructure is developing rapidly and provides for high international standard accommodation and entertainment,” Ambassador Beridze revealed.
There are about 12 thousand historical and cultural monuments, four of which are included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The country is a treasure trove of historical monuments, culture and beauty.
While there are no direct flights from Kuwait there are several charters being done in summers and frequently demand outstrips supply, ambassador pointed out. No visas are needed for Kuwaiti nationals while travelling to Georgia.
Concluding Ambassador Beridze noted that Georgia is keen to promote cultural and scientific relations with Kuwait, which already have been on a solid footing. In the past art exhibitions were held and quite recently a Georgian book corner was set up at the National Library. Georgian archaeologists for many years have been conducting the Archeological Mission in Failaka Island and Al Subbiya, and their work has been highly commended, ambassador pointed out.
Plans are being discussed for the future events both in Kuwait and Georgia, including exhibitions, concerts in close cooperation with the Kuwait National Council for Arts and Letters inaddition to exchange of experts between research institutions and visits of business delegations.