Friday, January 4, 2013

Ambassador Gabriela von Habsburg: Georgia now ‘open for business’

04.01.2013  (Hvino News) H.E. Gabriela von Habsburg, also known as Archduchess Gabriela of Austria, is Ambassador of Georgia to Germany since 2009. Germany's Globus Vision published an interview with Ambassador Gabriela von Habsburg in January 2013. The reforms implemented in recent years, along with a privileged geographic position and a well-functioning democracy, have made Georgia a highly attractive place for doing business, she said.

Ambassador Gabriela von Habsburg points out that by cutting red tape and removing obstacles to investors, Georgia has managed to enter the top ten countries in the World Bank's “Ease of Doing Business” ranking. She also touched upon the issues of  tourism, wine and agriculture. Parts of Ambassador Gabriela von Habsburg's interview follow:

“We have managed to eliminate corruption, decrease unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape, and resolve the bottlenecks in the system. As a result, the ease of doing business in the country is very high,” she says.

Georgia has managed to rebound from the Russian embargo of 1996, the 2008 global financial meltdown and the more recent Eurozone crisis, to achieve a robust growth rate of 7.5% in the first half of 2012.

Strategically located at the intersection of Eastern Europe, Western Asia, and the Black Sea, Georgia provides investors access to a market of more than 80 million people, apart from its own population of 4.5 million. The country also boasts a highly educated, multi-lingual workforce and wages that are competitive with other countries in the region.

Among the areas that are attracting the interest of foreign investors are real estate, tourism, pharmaceuticals, apparel and energy.

This includes investors from Germany, where the embassy of Georgia works closely with the different chambers of commerce to promote bilateral investment and trade between the two countries.

A strategic link on the ¨Silk Road¨ connecting Asia to Europe, Georgia has experienced unprecedented economic growth in recent years, which peaked at 12% in 2007 and remained at over 6.3% in 2010 and 2011 an impressive performance compared to its crisis-stricken European neighbors. And Georgia will not stop here, as the country is gradually becoming more and more integrated in the global economy, which is generating increased foreign trade and investment, more jobs and, most importantly, an ongoing exchange of know-how with partners in Europe and beyond.

The reforms that have been implemented over the last couple of years have led to an increased level of efficiency in the public sector. We have managed to eliminate corruption, decrease unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape, and resolve the bottlenecks in the system. As a result, the ease of doing business in the country is very high. We rose three places up from last year’s “Doing Business” rankings by the World Bank, for the first time putting us in to the Top 10 out of 185 countries, owing to improvements in the area of electricity, financing, taxation, cross-border trade, and contract enforcement. Georgia is strategically located at the intersection of Eastern Europe, Western Asia, and the Black Sea region. Through it, investors get access to a market of more than 80 million people (on top of its population of 4.486 million).

Despite challenges coming from the big embargo on Russia in 1996, the 2008 global financial crisis, and the more recent EU crisis, we have managed to post positive economic growth (which was 7.5%, as of the first half of 2012). This demonstrates the benefit of being an open economy.

The recent elections resulted in the victory of the coalition led by technocrat and businessman Mr. Bidzina Ivanishvili. In your opinion, what will be the priorities of the new administration and its impact on the business environment in Georgia?

If you look at our foreign policy, it is very clear that the line is very straightforward, and we expect to carry on following this same line in the years to come. The way of Georgia is very clearly set up, and it is going to continue. The recent elections are a clear demonstration of Georgia as a well-functioning democracy. We have a strong opposition and a strong government. There is good parliamentary work concerning all the issues. I think all this is going to continue very positively.

What are the implications of having someone who is both a businessman and a technocrat head the government?

It is a very new situation for us. We are finding out that it is very positive; especially, when you talk about the future. So far, things look good. It is truly a very interesting time.

Georgia is a strategic country to the energy markets in Europe and Asia as the oil pipelines from Central Asia to Western Europe go through its territory. Capitalizing on its privileged geography, Georgia has become an important trade and transit hub in the Caucasus and Black Sea Region that connects over one billion people from Europe and Asia every year. Its competitive business environment, stable political situation, great infrastructure and booming economy make Georgia an ideal investment destination that offers numerous opportunities in sectors like mining, agriculture, infrastructure, finance, industry, ICT and pharmaceuticals. Please share your insights into Georgia’s emerging investment opportunities.

The National Economic Plan will probably be set for 5 years, starting from the parliamentary election of the next government and it will carry on its positive path. Things would continue the way they are, more or less, with some changes. So far, we have a working plan.

The good thing about Georgia is that it is not focused on just one sector. It offers a wide range of opportunities. Of course, we continue to be strong in terms of the energy sector. Germany is trying to transition from nuclear energy to renewable energy, which happens to be Georgia’s strength. We are lucky because our geographical location allows for wind, hydro, and geothermal energy. We have about 25,000 rivers, the largest of which is the Mtkvari River. We have the Caucasus Mountains which rise as high as 18,500 feet above sea level, giving us the best conditions for hydro power. At the moment, we are only using 40% of our resources, yet it covers more than 90% of our country’s energy needs (not to mention what we export to all our neighboring countries). We have strategic links to Turkey, which is a growing country with an increasing demand for power. Clearly, there is incredible energy potential in the country.

In the area of tourism, the number of arrivals in the country is increasing. While the country has been categorized as a subtropical climatic region, it experiences a wide range of climates. Our climatic zones allow for all season tourism, with something to offer for those who want colder or warmer climes. The area facing the Black Sea tends to be warm, while the regions near the Caucasus have cold alpine weather, with chances of snow. The eastern part is arid, while the southern part is chilly. There is also the rainy weather in the Kolkhida Lowlands.

On top of our lush and varied landscape, we also have a rich cultural product—from Armenian to Azeri, to Greek and Russian—which should appeal to tourists interested in culture and heritage.

In the area of gastronomy, we have good food and wine. The country has a long history of making wine. In fact, Georgia is the first country in the world to produce wine. Viticulture here has gone on for millennia. We are known for it. The quality of our water is world-renowned, which works nicely for our wine and bottled water industry.

There have been tremendous developments in tourism recently, most notably the Anaklia and Kobuleti free tourism zones and the Akhtala Mud Resort. Would you kindly expand on this topic?

Yes, there is. It is a beautiful part of the country along the coast of the Black Sea where a city is being developed. This is, of course, great news. We hope to turn it into an economic cluster with skyscrapers and ports. A state-of-the-art Public Service Hall is being constructed. We hope that this project will convert Lazika into a teaming urban area, second to Tbilisi. We are going to need to set up the necessary infrastructure—roads, trains, power lines, and so on. There are also some hotels being development. These projects are all being implemented in a healthy way, with a very good and solid base.

How would you comment on the country’s agriculture industry?

A lot of work is being done to revitalize our agriculture industry. What we have now is a highly specialized sort of agriculture. We need to expand that further, especially since, because of our history, a lot of people work in the industry.

What other sectors would you like to highlight?

Apart from agriculture, our key sectors include tourism, finance, transportation and logistics, manufacturing (under which we have apparel, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, organic fertilizers, medical equipment, packaging, household appliance, electronics, etc.), energy, ICT, infrastructure, and real estate development. There are also opportunities in the area of metallurgy, construction materials, wood processing, and vehicle fabrication.

Can you tell us about Georgia’s current country branding initiatives?

There is a lot going on. For instance, we are hoping to host the 2020 European football championship. We have already made a bid. It is a great opportunity for us to showcase what we have in Georgia to an international audience.

We are also actively participating in a lot of economic events, working with the various Chambers of Commerce. We have a lot of things going on in Germany.

We engage all the different states, to promote an inclusive sort of development. We organize business delegations, and take them to the various parts of the country. We encourage several international exchanges, and have a number of Georgian missions abroad.

Within the country, we have launched the "Invest in Georgia" Campaign under the country's National Investment Agency (NIA). The project highlights several investment opportunities in various industries, from real estate to tourism, to pharmaceuticals and apparel. Its website contains a comprehensive country profile, with information on the key sectors of the economy.

In Germany, we work with the different Chambers of Commerce to promote further business exchanges between Georgian and German companies, and perhaps encourage German investment to Georgia (and vice versa).

What key thing do you love about the country?

What impresses me the most about Georgia are its people—they are very warm and hospitable. This says a lot about the country. They welcome everybody. They are so open and sincere. This is good for both social and business purposes. I think foreign investors would enjoy working with these lovely people. I think the Georgians are truly special.

What final message would you like to leave to the readers?

One way to truly appreciate what Georgia has to offer is to come here and experience the country for yourself. Breathe the Georgian air and personally immerse yourselves in the rich Georgian culture. Visitors are always welcome.

© Hvino News, source

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