Georgian PM’s special envoy for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, said implementation of the 2011 Swiss-brokered Georgia-Russia agreement on monitoring of trade between the two countries will be “one of the central issues” of discussions when he meets Russian deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin in Prague later this month.
Georgia agreed to give its go-ahead to Russia’s WTO membership only after Tbilisi and Moscow signed a Swiss-mediated agreement in November, 2011, envisaging putting in place sophisticated systems for tracking and auditing of cargo passing through breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The agreement envisages, among other issues, hiring of “neutral private company” to carry out monitoring of cargo movement through three “trade corridors” two of which run in the breakaway regions and the third one on the Zemo Larsi-Kazbegi border crossing point on the undisputed section of Georgia-Russia border. Georgian negotiators at the time argued that this provision, setting unified “trade regime” on all three sections, located both in breakaway regions and in undisputed part of Georgia, was a significant achievement for Tbilisi. Monitoring should be carried out, among other means, also through presence of company representatives at entry/exit points of these corridors, meaning that they will be present outside of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
SGS, the world’s largest inspection, verification, testing and certification company headquartered in Geneva, has been selected for carrying out the monitoring.
Abashidze said that work has been underway on the text of contracts, which the company has to sign separately with Georgia and Russia.
The work of the company will be financed by Georgia and Russia in equivalent of the costs of the work performed by the company in respective countries. While being “accountable” before Switzerland, according to the deal, the company will also have to “regularly report all its findings” to the Joint Committee, a body that has to be established by Georgia, Russia and Switzerland to supervise the implementation of the agreement.
“The work that was underway since 2011 [after the signing of the agreement] is actually already over and now we have to agree with the Russian side when we are starting to actually impalement this agreement,” Abashidze said, adding that it has to be agreed when the contracts with the company will be signed, when the joint committee will be established. “And after that the actual implementation of the agreement will start.”
“In order to clarify these issues we will meet in Prague in bilateral format [with Karasin],” Abashidze continued. “Our Swiss partners are informed. Our EU partners are also informed. By the way I will have consultations in Brussels in coming days about the Georgian-Russian relations, which will be then followed by a meeting in Prague [with Karasin].”
“Now the time has come to start the implementation of this agreement,” he added.
Abashidze said that nothing has been changed in the original agreement that was signed between the two countries in 2011.
According to this agreement Georgia and Russia will also have to provide a private company with standard set of data on all goods that enter or exit the trade corridors, among them detailed information about cargo, name and address of a consignee, country of export, country of origin and final destination of cargo, invoices, information on means of transport crossing the border. This information in addition will also be sent on monthly basis by Georgia and Russia to the WTO’s Integrated Data Base, which will also be audited by a private company.
The agreement also envisages carrying out monitoring through “electronic seals on all cargo entering trade corridors”, as well as GPS/GPRS monitoring systems for tracking the movement of cargo after its entry into the trade corridors.
Planned meeting of Abashidze and Karasin will be their first one in last four months. These meetings, informally known as Abashidze-Karasin format, was launched in December, 2012 and focus mostly on trade and economic relations. But their last meeting, which was held in Prague in October, was apparently dominated by a treaty, which Russia eventually signed with breakaway Abkhazia in November and which Tbilisi condemned as a step towards the region’s "annexation" by Russia.
Representatives from UNM opposition party, who have long been highly critical of Abashidze-Karasin format, criticized the authorities for resumption of these meetings. Zurab Tchiaberashvili of UNM, who in his capacity of Georgia’s ambassador to Switzerland was a member of Georgian negotiating team on WTO deal with Russia in 2011, said that implementation of WTO deal between Russia and Georgia is very important for Georgia, but no Abashidze-Karasin meeting was needed for it. Instead, he said, the sides should meet in presence of Swiss mediators to discuss the launch of implementation of this agreement.
Speaking at a news conference on February 17, Abashidze said that among other issues that he plans to discuss with Karasin will be the fate of those Georgian citizens, who are convicted in Russia for spying in favor of Georgia. Last year several Georgian citizens, who were serving prison terms in Russia, were handed over to Georgia.
Announcement about the planned meeting was first made by the Russian Foreign Ministry earlier on February 17, which said that Karasin and Abashidze held a telephone conversation to discuss “some of the practical issues of bilateral Russian-Georgian relations,” adding that the two diplomats agreed to meet in Prague in late February.