Interview with His Excellency, Mr David Bakradze, State Minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration
It’s is not every day that you have a chance to meet a minister and a former ambassador who, despite his important function, remains humble, down to earth and kind. This is the case of David Bakradze, whom some of you might remember from when he was posted in Geneva some years ago.
Despite his busy schedule, on his way to Brussels, he took the time to do a Library Talk presenting a book entitled Georgia’s European Way: Political and Cultural Perspectives. We had a chance to ask some questions, so, now we will leave the floor to his Excellency.
Q: First of all, we would like to congratulate you on your appointment. How long have you been a minister?
Thank you, I was appointed a minister in November 2014, so it’s now one year and eight months.
Q: How is it to be a minister?
It’s a huge responsibility. I worry that I cannot spend enough time with my family, which is an issue of concern for me. We have two young daughters, 4 and 5 years old, and a son of 17, and they need my attention. However, if the Prime Minister and the Government have decided that I can contribute to the work, I am happy to serve.
Q: You have always been “proud” to be Georgian. This year marks 25 years since the Soviet Union collapsed and you got your independence. What has changed?
I think that there has been a lot of changes. When we talked about the NATO and the European Community, the support was high then as it is now; however, I think the structure of the support has changed. Now people understand why they support Georgia’s European integration.
But it is not going to be an easy ride, and nobody has promised that either. We understand the difficulty behind introducing the EU standards, but at the same time we see the importance of laying the basis for this integration. We are aiming at building our country and turning it into the most attractive business destination. We are unique in many ways.
In the region, we are the best country classified by tax pressure, in other words we have very low taxes. In addition, we are on the cross-roads, having free trade agreements with all our neighbours (EU, CIS, incl. Russia, Turkey, EFTA countries), and now we are negotiating with China that will be finalized by the end of this year. Georgia is now receiving investments and bringing the productions lines from China. Why? Because exporting from Georgia to EU countries is becoming more and more interesting for Chinese companies and therefore they are bringing their production to Georgia.
This is a country that has very strong incentives for stability! Simply because it routes for around 5 % of the energy resources that Europe needs. We have one of the least corrupt and one of the most open and transparent governments in the region.
Now our ambition is to set up a front office for all licensing and authorizations - everything that companies may need from Government will be run in one office. We have a similar project for citizens, and we will have it for the companies as well. We have planned to finalize all the major infrastructure projects within three years to give full use of Georgia’s potential as a transportation hub located on the ancient Silk Road.
We believe in democracy, human rights and rule of law. This is what defines our agenda for the coming years, transformation to the level once thought unimaginable. We want these to be the values that we have had for these 25 years of independence, and this is the understanding the public has right now. I think we have matured.
Q: We don’t hear much about Georgia. For most people here, when they think about Georgia, they think of the song, "Georgia on My Mind" by Ray Charles. What are you doing to promote your country?
Georgia is becoming more and more attractive destination for tourists. The country with a population of 3.7 million last year had more than 5 million visitors. This year we expect strong increase due to developments in the region.
When you promote something, you should be ready and able to host them. So, I think that the time to accept this responsibility has come and Georgia can accept more and more tourists every year with new three- and four-star hotels.
But still, high-class hotels are of more interest for investors. In Batumi for example, five new 5-star hotels are currently being built during last year in addition to already existing ones. All the major brands are there. But we need to have more budget hotels, and this is something that probably will be one the key business opportunities in Georgia for the coming years.
Q: We have seen pictures of Georgia, and it is indeed a very pretty country.
Georgia has 22 microclimate zones; we have deserts and we have mountains where snow never melts. You can do a lot in Georgia. You can hike, you can bike. You can do Heli-ski. We have religious tours with ancient monasteries, wine tours (as Georgia is a cradle of wine making) and unique Georgian cuisine. Georgia has a huge potential, which we want to realize, and I hope we’ll be successful.
Q: What are you doing to attract European companies?
Well that’s our key. First of all, there is Georgia’s location, second the free-trade agreement with the all our neighbours, then there’s the transport - being at the core of the Silk Road transport corridor.
We are now constructing a new deep sea port in Anaklia, Georgia with a far bigger capacity than our ports have had up to now. We have a skilled and affordable workforce. The production of electricity in Georgia costs 50% less than in neighbourhood. We have hydropower plants, and we use only 18-20% of our potential. Almost every year we get big projects in hydro energy in Georgia. We have already built high voltage transmission lines — so we can sell our energy to Turkey and beyond.
Agriculture is another big issue in Georgia. We make wine, and now you can see Georgian Kiwi and watermelon in Lidl and other supermarkets in Germany, you can see Georgian blackberry in UK, not to mention Georgian nuts. Georgia is one of the top three countries producing hazelnuts.
What we do offer to investors is a friendly environment, Easy-to-do business climate, stable banking sector and Invest-in-Georgia – one stop shop for every kind of information one might need about possibilities, including about
co-investment fund to cooperate and find partner on the ground.
We have also decided that in most of our embassies we will introduce economic attaché positions, so you will be hearing more about our economic and trade potentials more.
Leaving the Minister rushing off to his next meeting, because what was supposed to take 10 minutes took far longer, we only wish that there are others like His Excellency, who as he put it, we are building slowly but surely the bricks of the wall. And although we only got a very brief chat, we know that in the years to come, Georgia is definitely going to be one of the next economic success stories in the region. We wish them all the best in this endeavour.
Katya Pinchevskaya & Marit Fosse