In his interview given to the Georgian Public Broadcaster on 6 March 2014, Irakli Gharibashvili stated: “The dialogue with the United States of America were launched during the previous government. We intensified the dialogue and brought about the accomplishment that President Obama himself tells me they need to assist us in enhancing economic and trade relations and carrying out due preparations as one day [free trade] agreement may be reached.” Additionally, in regard to this subject the Prime Minister accused the previous government of “discourtesy” and “diplomatic scandal” towards Georgia’s American colleagues which was spurred by the government’s publicly announcing the signing of the Free Trade Agreement. The given statement was the PM’s response to the voiced criticism of the opposition alleging that the government’s effort and enterprise on the Free Trade Agreement with the US was insufficient.

At the meeting with students of Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University held on 13 March 2014, Irakli Gharibashvili returned to the subject of the free trade agreement dialogues with the US and described the previous government’s position and expectations in this respect as both exaggerated and illusory.

FactCheck

took interest in the PM’s statement and verified its accuracy.

The Free Trade Agreement envisages

the opening of new markets for goods and services, eliminating trade barriers and ensuring the protection of intellectual property rights.

The high-level dialogue with the US on a free trade agreement took its start on 30 January 2012 following the meeting of Mikheil Saakashvili with Barack Obama. At the meeting

the US President asserted: “What we’ve agreed to is a high-level dialogue between our two countries about how we can continue to strengthen trade relations between us, including the possibility of a free trade agreement...” On his part, Saakashvili thanked President Obama for mentioning “the prospect of a free trade agreement,” saying that it would bolster Georgia’s further progress.

The first meeting in the framework of the high-level dialogue took place on 20 April 2012. At the meeting between United States Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, and Georgian Prime Minister, Nikoloz Gilauri, it was decided to form a working group focused upon a free trade agreement between the two countries. On 29 May 2012, another meeting of the US-Georgia high-level dialogue was held between Deputy United States Trade Representative, Miriam Sapiro, and Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister of Georgia, Tamar Kovziridze. At the meeting

the officials discussed the possibility of a free trade agreement between the two countries. In the course of the first half of 2012, therefore, two high-level dialogues were held between the US and Georgia on the matters of a free trade agreement.

Of note is that United States Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, confirmed the possibility of a US-Georgia free trade agreement in his later statement as well (See link: page 75).

In particular, at the hearing before the United States Senate Committee on Financeexamining the accession of Russia to the World Trade Organisation (WTO),Kirk responded to Senator Orrin Hatch’s question inquiring about the ongoing negotiations with Georgia on a free trade agreement and highlighted the meeting of May 2012 held in the framework of the US-Georgia high-level dialogue on trade and investment where officials discussed a range of options for increasing bilateral trade and investment, including the possibility of a free trade agreement. Further, the United States Trade Representative expressed his readiness to work together with the Committee to explore concrete ways for pursuing the goals elaborated above.

No high-level dialogues were held between the US and Georgia on the matters of a free trade agreement in 2012 (after the Georgian Dream’s taking office) or 2013. This fact was officially confirmed to us by spokespersons of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia as well as the Ministry of Economy of Georgia. The high-level meeting on the free trade agreement took place only on 27 February 2014 during the Georgian Prime Minister’s visit to Washington where he met with the United States Trade Representative, Michael Froman. As can be seen from the government’s press release, the officials discussed their mutual interests on bilateral trade and investment growth.

It has been established by fact that only one high-level dialogue was held between Georgia and the US in the period from October 2012 to February 2014 (17 months) whereas Georgian and American officials met twice within the framework of the high-level dialogue in the period from January to October 2012.

Conclusion

Irakli Gharibashvili justly notes in his statement that the dialogue on a free trade agreement was launched during the previous government. However, the PM also claims to have intensified the dialogue during his government which is not confirmed by fact. Specifically, in the aftermath of 1 October 2012 in the framework of the high-level dialogue on the free trade agreement, Georgian and US officials met only once. It is also of note that along with Georgian politicians, the United States President and other representatives of the US administration were publicly pointing to the prospects of a free trade agreement between the US and Georgia.

Consequently, Irakli Gharibashvili’s statement: “We intensified the dialogue [on free trade agreement with the US],” is FALSE.
Originally published in The Financial, issue N. 14(394)

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