Issue 4, 2013. August-September

   

U.S.-GEORGIAN COMMERCIAL DIPLOMACY TRAINING TO STRENGTHEN GEORGIA'S DIPLOMATIC CORPS' EXPERTISE

Alexander Melin

A small crowd of diplomats leave the comfy confines of an air-conditioned training room at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) with cups of coffee to brave the hot summer temperatures for a smoke or chat outside, milling about in their dark suits and high heels between commercial attaché training sessions. They represent a veritable menagerie of Georgia's diplomatic missions strewn across the world, everywhere from the Netherlands to Uzbekistan. Different as they are geographically, after a few minutes they reassemble in the training room with a unified sense of purpose: to deepen the skills necessary to promote Georgia's exports and Georgia as place of investment.

It is no secret that Georgia's fortunes are intricately tied to its external trade, and this is not lost on the Georgian men and women who are on the front line of Georgia's diplomatic corps. Georgia remains an attractive location for investment with a highly educated and cheap labor force, and a structurally sound investment framework. From the standpoint of trade, Georgia has a wide variety of exports that are highly competitive on world markets, some with which readers may be familiar, such as mineral waters and wines, but others with which they may not be, such as live sheep and nuts (Georgia is the world's third-largest exporter of hazelnuts!).

Yet the lack of knowledge about Georgian products and investment opportunities on the world market is a distinct challenge. Georgia has historically faced difficulties in trade promotion due to the small size of its diplomatic corps (some attendees mentioned the difficulty in being perhaps one of just two people in their respective posts handling commercial affairs, compared with the enormous services of some larger countries like the U.S. and China) and a lack of trained commercial attachés. But that is something the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is taking active steps to improve.

From July 9 to 11 the Diplomatic Training Center of Georgia held a high-level training workshop in Tbilisi on commercial law, trade, and the skills necessary for Georgia's economic diplomats. This is the second phase of training for a core group of MFA and Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development (MOESD) officials, following the first phase, which was held in Washington, DC in May of this year.

The workshop, now being held in its second year, is part of a multi-year joint project among the Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP) of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, the U.S. Embassy Georgia, and the MOESD.

Maia Kipshidze, the Director of the MFA's Diplomatic Training Center, described the goals of this partnership training as twofold: firstly, to deepen the experience of and provide knowledge to commercial attachés to increase their skills to promote Georgia abroad and Georgian exports; and secondly, to help put together a commercial development curriculum for the Diplomatic Training Center to provide a short-term training course on commercial diplomacy for potential attachés before they leave for their posts — in short, to turn the working core group into working trainers.

Kipshidze sees a link between "the skills and the experience of the commercial attachés and the economic attachés, whose direct duty and responsibility it is to facilitate the process of attracting investments to Georgia from abroad" and improving the Georgian economy.

"I think [commercial diplomacy] is crucial, very important. Georgia is a small country and needs to put its name on the commercial map; the more investments, the more economic growth — that is, there is a proportional link; the more qualified and experienced staff that the Ministry will have, the more prospects there will be for Georgia," she told Investor.ge.

Training topics included areas as diverse as WTO trade law, negotiating free trade agreements, financing trade and insuring against political risk, dispute resolution, export promotion, trade fairs, and presentation skills, among many others. The areas of training are indicative of the high level of Georgian commercial development, which has improved immensely. Training, accordingly, is specifically tailored. Manoj Desai, the Principal Commercial Officer of the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, indicated that the training had become tailored according to Georgian needs and feedback, focusing on areas this year like presentation and negotiation skills.

Desai arrived for two days of the program to lecture on a variety of topics and engaged in a bilateral dialogue with his Georgian counterparts. He emphasized the importance of the program to Investor.ge, "The goal [of the program] is to help Georgia become a global player in world markets. If you look at any government, any country that has these types of programs — like the United States, where ... for every dollar that's invested in export promotion, the return was 142 dollars, that's tremendous," he said.
"[W]e have seen that each of those countries has gained. The UK has a program, the Canadians have it, the U.S. has it — almost every country that is either developing or developed has a program where they are leveraging their foreign services to grab business. Business has become part of diplomacy; countries that trade usually don't go to war."