Support Act will bolster Georgia’s trade and security partnership with America
Like much of the world, August in Europe is vacation time, with an invasion of tourists spreading across the continent. For Georgia, August is a stark reminder of a more pernicious invasion. Eleven years ago this month, Russia invaded us, occupying 20 percent of our country.
Russia’s occupation has resulted in a humanitarian crisis in the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali. Russia continues to isolate these regions from the rest of the Georgia by closing crossing points and waging a campaign aimed at eradicating Georgian culture. Basic human rights, including the right to freedom of movement and property are being violated; Georgian citizens are illegally detained and kidnapped.
We must live with the consequences of that tragic war, but with the support of the United States and our European friends, Georgia has proven the old adage that in adversity lies strength. The U.S.–Georgia relationship is at an all-time high and expected to grow due to support from President Trump’s administration and a determined Congress. Powerful evidence of the enduring partnership is the Georgia Support Act, currently making its way through Congress, which builds up our alliance while clamping down on Russian aggression.
We are committed to finding a peaceful resolution to this conflict, and our “A Step to Better Future” peace initiative provides the population in the occupied territories with access to health care, education and business opportunities
Georgia is small, but it consistently punches above its weight. We lie at the geopolitical crossroad between Europe and Asia and are a reliable partner advancing Western economic and security interests in our part of the world. This is a role we welcome, and we have prepared for it. Georgia’s Western orientation and European identity are civilizational choices made by our people centuries ago.
In recent years, we have stimulated economic development, increased investments in our national security, and accelerated the pace of our democratic reforms. Our elections are fair, boisterous, and strongly contested.
Most recently, our younger generation requested that we expedite our existing plans to make our parliament more representative through a fully proportional electoral system. We made that change quickly, and we are excited that this change in the 2020 elections will empower greater political participation and a more open political playing field.
Today Georgia is among the world’s most favorable business destinations as measured by virtually every global metric. We are a world leader when it comes to the ease of doing business, with a low tax regime, and solid economic growth of 5 percent. All of this improvement is captured by the exponential increase of direct flights from Europe, Eurasia, China and the Far East, and the Middle East to Georgia. A decade ago, only a few were available. Today more than 100 operate to Georgia.
The development of Black Sea ports, which will cut many days off the transit of high value goods between Europe and Asia, will put even more energy into Georgia’s growing presence as a trading hub. So, too, are our free trade agreements in all directions: Europe, China, Japan, CIS countries, with negotiations underway with the U.S. and other countries.
These strategic steps are part of our plan to cement Georgia’s integration into NATO and the European Union. Georgians make no secret of their political destination of choice: the transatlantic community of democratic values and human rights, free markets, and robust security.
The Georgia Support Act now in Congress aims to build on these achievements with tangible economic and security investments by the U.S. in Georgia. Importantly, it prioritizes movement toward a U.S.–Georgia free trade agreement. It calls for an assessment of threats to Georgia’s sovereignty and independence and enhanced measures to counter them.
This August, all Georgians are grateful for the strong bipartisan support for the Georgia Support Act in Congress, and the unflinching American people who have made this support possible. The United States placed its trust in Georgia from the moment of our independence. For this trust, we strive to put our best foot forward and, when we stumble, to get up. We never lose sight of who we are and where we have been, the obstacles we have overcome, and the partners who have made this possible.
Mamuka Bakhtadze is prime minister of Georgia.