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Russian MFA ready to discuss “bilateral” trade relations with Georgia

By Mzia Kupunia
Monday, March 22
Moscow has offered to start talks with Tbilisi on working out rules for bilateral trade between the two countries, as Georgia’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has created some gaps in the legal framework governing this trade.

As a result of Georgia’s withdrawal from the CIS a number of CIS documents concerning multilateral cooperation no longer apply to Georgia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in its statement. “In particular, the rules for defining the country of origin of goods within the CIS member states, which used to be one of the main means of implementing the Russian-Georgian Agreement on free trade in 1994, have lost [legal] power,” the statement reads.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry the Georgian side appealed to Moscow on this issue in July 2009 through the Swiss Embassy and expressed worries about “possible problems in terms of carrying out the abovementioned bilateral agreement”. The Russian MFA statement says that Tbilisi offered to resolve the issue. “Later the Georgian side repeatedly raised these questions during the negotiations on opening the Kazbegi-Zemo Larsi border crossing point. The subject was also touched upon during both rounds of expert consultations (in October and December of last year), and in the note requests sent through the Swiss Embassy,” the statement continues.

In the interest of developing mutual trade relations and following the Georgian side’s appeals the respective Russian agencies have drafted a plan for resolving the current situation, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. “Our approaches to solving this problem were outlined in the note of December 22, 2009. In addition, on March 16, the Russian MFA through the Swiss Embassy officially informed Tbilisi of the readiness of the Russian side to temporarily extend the previous preferential regime for Georgian goods if certain rules on registering certificates of origin of the goods were obeyed,” the Russian MFA statement reads. In addition, Moscow has offered to start bilateral negotiations in order to work out rules for identifying the origin of goods. “Showing goodwill, we are going to constructively discuss the issues of relations with Georgia which have specific practical importance,” the statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website concludes.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry denied having sent any appeals to Moscow about restoring bilateral trade relations between the two countries. “The statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry that we have allegedly appealed to them to restore bilateral trade between our countries and that the negotiations are starting on this issue is not true,” the Director of the Georgian MFA’s Department of Relations With CIS Countries, Giorgi Karalashvili, said. “With such statements, Moscow is trying to mislead the international community and its own population,” he added.

Karalashvili said that in 2009, after withdrawing from the CIS, the Georgian side appealed to all member states, including Russia, and requested information on what kind of documentation Georgia would need to export its products. The Georgian MFA official said that the issue had been raised during the Larsi negotiations last year, however he reiterated that the Georgian side had sent no appeals to Moscow on restoring trade relations.

Russia imposed an embargo on Georgia's main export products, wine and mineral water in 2006 and later cut air, land, sea and railway links with Georgia. Following the August 2008 military conflict between Russia and Georgia Tbilisi declared it would withdraw from the Commonwealth of Independent States and has become the first state to leave the CIS.

Some analysts in Georgia suggest, that this issue has become a cat-and-mouse game. Independent analyst Gia Khukhashvili said that Russia’s statements on its readiness to launch negotiations with the Georgian side are not actually designed to improve the situation. “Rather, such statements are directed to the international community, in order to show that Russia is trying to approach this problem in a civilized manner,” Khukhashvili told The Messenger. “However, I would refrain from being categorical, let’s wait and see if any specific steps follow the statements,” the analyst added.