Issue 6, 2013. December-January

   

US AMBASSADOR RICHARD NORLAND: "THE STAGE IS SET" FOR MORE INVESTMENT IN GEORGIA

Investor.ge spoke to US Ambassador Richard Norland about his first year in office, the prospects of a free trade agreement with the United States, and how the initialing in Vilnius could bolster Georgia's role as a transit country and the future of US investment in Georgia.

US Ambassador Richard Norland and Irakli Baidiashvili, the senior vice president of GMT Group and the vice president/treasurer of AmCham Georgia, speak during the AmCham roundtable event on December 4 at Radisson Iveria Blu.


A consolidation of reforms over the past year, highlighted by the presidential election, is paving the way for more investment in Georgia from foreign companies, according to US Ambassador Richard Norland.

Norland, who came to Georgia in the run-up to the 2012 parliamentary elections, said there is increased interest from American companies to invest in Georgia. The potential of the Deep and Comprehensive Trade Agreement with the European Union also helps bolster Georgia's attractiveness for businesses, he noted.

"I think the stage... is set for Georgian politics to become more stable and I think that will translate into a more attractive investment climate," he said in an interview with Investor.ge.

"They know that the basics are here. ...They have been holding back because of what they see as a less than ideal climate. Now they know, they are seeing, they read the headlines that the climate is stabilizing. What they want is a reality check on that, is that how foreign diplomats and other observers see the situation. And when they ask me that, I say 'Yes, I think it is.'"

Georgia's initialing of its Association Agreement opens up new opportunities to build on the country's transit role in the region, Norland noted. Especially, he added, since the United States is working with the European Union on its own trade agreement.

"[G]eorgia is a key part of this new silk road trade corridor and as the United States talks about a pivot to Asia, it is really important to remember for us this means going around the Pacific route but also going through Eurasia, and Georgia sits on the western terminus of the new silk road," he said, stressing that in part, the infrastructure built during the war in Afghanistan goes through Georgia - which could provide additional trade and transit possibilities if it can become commercially sustainable.

"China and India ... are very interested in this western terminus because for them it holds great significance for their trading relationships, just as it does for us."

Any talk about a US-Georgia Free Trade Agreement, however, is still too premature. The idea was originally floated during former President MikheilSaakashvili's trip to Washington in 2012. Norland said that while the "dialogue" about a trade agreement continues, it remains a "moving target."

"During this period the United States also decided to launch the trade dialogue with Europe which is a much broader picture. The question might become how could a free trade agreement with Georgia fit into a broader trade agreement with Europe, and that is something that remains to be seen," he said.

"But I think it is fair to say there is room for that dialogue to intensify and it helps that the government is able to focus now more exclusively on the task of governing and managing Georgia's internationalrelations and a little less than the dramas that have been associated withcohabitation over the past year."

The Ambassador added that economics, as a whole, is an area where there is still "work to do."

"The economic area continues to be one where we can do more," he said.

"Economics is one area where Georgia is still lagging ...the agriculture sector, the rural economy - these are still suffering. Job creation is not what it could be and the United States certainly believes we can contribute to those issues. We would like to do more and we think that [the Strategic] Partnership and the economic working group discussions we have, and the high level trade dialogue, will help on that front."

Regarding the United States' own domestic drama over the debt ceiling and spending cuts, Norland said it should not result in any radical shifts for foreign aid or development projects in Georgia.

"In the context of what is happening in the region now ... I think Washington is aware that there are things that we still need to be doing for Georgia to bolster them in their particular situation," he said.

"For a country of around 4.5 million people, you are going to continue to see an outsized assistance effort in relation to the size of the country. There isn't going to be a billion dollar pledge but we are going to continue to have quite a substantial assistance program here for a while."