Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said on March 11 that enforcement of the 2011 Swiss-brokered Georgia-Russia agreement on monitoring of trade between the two countries will “not infringe the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as of new independent countries” as the deal does “not cover these territories.”
Georgia agreed to give its go-ahead to Russia’s WTO membership only after Tbilisi and Moscow signed a Swiss-mediated agreement on November 9, 2011, envisaging putting in place sophisticated systems for tracking and auditing of “all trade in goods that enters or exits predefined corridors” – two of those corridors run through breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“Abkhazia has nothing to do with this [agreement],” said Lavrov when asked at a joint news conference with breakaway Abkhazia’s foreign minister Viacheslav Chirikba in Moscow how the implementation of this agreement will affect Moscow’s ties with Sokhumi.
“This agreement does not infringe the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as of new independent states and it does not entail any obligations either for Sukhum or Tskhinval; the work of private Swiss company, invited to administer certain customs issues, does not cover the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia either. It applies exclusively the territories of Russia and Georgia within the post-August, 2008 borders,” Lavrov said.
“Now there is a will to put this agreement into action and to put the private Swiss company, which will also be involved in auditing trade data, into operation,” the Russian Foreign Minister said. “We will also be watching closely to ensure that the principles, laid into the foundation of this agreement, are strictly observed.”
Georgian PM’s special envoy for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin discussed launch of the implementation of the agreement when they met in Prague in late February.
The agreement envisages, among other issues, hiring of “neutral private company” – SGS has been selected – 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.
According to the agreement “all trade in goods that enters or exits predefined corridors shall be submitted” to the customs administration and monitoring mechanism.
This mechanism consists of two main components – Electronic Data Exchange System (EDES) and International Monitoring System (IMS).
EDES will have to serve as an electronic exchange platform through which Russian and Georgian customs services will have to share with private company information on “all customs and trade transactions”. This information in addition will also be sent on monthly basis by Georgia and Russia to the WTO’s Integrated Data Base.
IMS involves 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.
Responding to the same question at the joint news conference with Lavrov, breakaway Abkhazia’s foreign minister, Viacheslav Chirikba, said that Georgian-Russian agreement “is not directly related to Abkhazia”, noting that there will be no representatives of the “private company” present on the territory of Abkhazia.
“Therefore, I am sure that there will be no negative effects on trade turnover between Abkhazia and Russia. We have constant consultations with our Russian counterparts and I am confident that there will be no infringement of Abkhaz rights,” Chirikba said.