Issue 6, 2017. December-January



At the end of October/early November, an AmCham delegation visited Washington, DC to meet with US government officials, legislators from the House and Senate, and foreign policy experts. The delegation included AmCham Georgia President Michael Cowgill; First Vice President Sarah Williamson; BP Country Director, Chris Schleuter; San Diego State University Georgia Dean Ken Walsh; and AmCham Georgia Executive Director George Welton.

We make this trip every two years or so, and its main goal is to update and inform. The U.S. Government and experts in DC tend to hear about Georgia in terms of politics and geopolitics, and most of what they hear comes from politicians, diplomats or politically oriented NGOs. Our trip provides a business and economic perspective directly from American businesses on the ground.

The trip also helps us develop a relationship with U.S. officials and develop a better understanding of the priorities, people and personalities that shape U.S. policy for Georgia. This understanding can then help us advocate on specific issues. For example, in the late spring of this year, the White House proposed its so-called "skinny budget," which included significant cuts in financing to and for Georgia. In response, we were able to contact the U.S. Senators and Representatives we had met before to argue against this proposal. It currently appears that the 2017/2018 budget is very favorable for Georgia. As a result, one of the goals of the delegation was to thank U.S. legislators for their continued support.

As with our previous trips, the 2017 delegation highlighted a range of topics which we tailored to the interests of U.S. officials. We discussed the continued and irreversible Western trajectory of democratic and economic reforms in Georgia and the continued efforts by Russia to undermine this agenda. We also highlighted the considerable opportunity that Georgia offers for U.S. companies as a hub for the region, particularly with the large infrastructure projects under development.

Given these facts, we were also able to emphasize the way in which a U.S.-Georgia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) would work to serve the economic and strategic interests of both America and Georgia, and we discussed how to tackle some of the hurdles involved in making such an agreement happen.

In arranging the meetings, we reached out to U.S. government agencies, as well as members of the House Foreign Affairs, Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We also reached out to members of the House Georgia Caucus and to U.S. Senators who have been strongly pro-Georgia for many years. The level of interest from the Washington side was tremendous. We conducted 45 meetings in four days, including meetings with the State Department, Commerce Department, USAID, the U.S. Trade Representative and OPIC. From Congress, we met with eight U.S. Representatives directly and the staff of 26 additional Representatives and 10 Senators. We also met with local think-tanks, like the Business Executives for National Security (BENS) and finished our trip with a roundtable discussion panel hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Our messages were extremely well received. As we have found in the past, there was a clear understanding that Georgia deserves continued U.S. support and that such support is in America's immediate national and geopolitical interest. Legislators also offered general support for the concept of an FTA, both because of an understanding of the need to intensify U.S.-Georgia economic relations, and because the current administration may have an appetite for bi-lateral trade agreements. However, most of the meetings also acknowledged that achieving an FTA would require a clear development strategy as the USTR (the government entity responsible for negotiating trade agreements) is currently focused on renegotiating other large existing trade deals, including NAFTA involving the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Most importantly, however, we found that U.S. government legislators and officials fully understand the challenges that Georgia faces, and they are interested in continuing to support the country and looking for opportunities that Georgia might offer for American companies to trade and invest. Many of the members of Congress and staffers had visited Georgia; in some instances, several times. All of them continue to agree that the U.S. must remain as Georgia's most important strategic ally. The AmCham team, in turn, was happy to reinforce that view, and to offer ourselves as a facilitator of U.S.-Georgia economic relations now and in the future.

AmCham would like to thank the U.S. Embassy, the Georgian government and Georgian Embassy in Washington and all of the delegation members for their support of our trip.