What are your thoughts on working in India?
I arrived here in 2016 and presented my credentials to the Honourable President of India Mr. Pranab Mukherjee on 30th of November. It was a very important day for me, as I had officially started working in India and assumed my duties. We put a target from the beginning and the main focus was to establish the connectivity projects between our friendly countries, as both India and Georgia share a long history of relations. After we opened the Embassy of Georgia in New Delhi in 2010, it’s been a short period of time but we have achieved a lot. One of the main achievements we’ve created is a solid legal base and moving forward in all aspects of cooperation, such as trade and economy, investments, cultural cooperation and etc. Of course it is not enough and we obviously targeting more, higher level of cooperation. Talking about my personal feeling about working in India, it has been a very interesting and experience-gaining posting for me, which gives me the scope to do more in bringing our countries together. Also, I have always been fascinated with the history, diversity, and achievements of India as a country. I am happy to be in this democratic country. Talking about my recent visits, I would highlight my visit to Rishikesh and Varanasi. Both are a very nice, I would say mystical and divine places, where you see very beautiful temples, spiritually very devoted and peace-loving people. In Rishikesh with my colleagues I took a dip in the river Ganga. This shows how deeply we want to be connected with the Indian society, feel the pulse of this great nation. It’s been a life experience.
Diplomatic relations between India and Georgia were initiated in 1992, what is the progress so far?
As I mentioned above, we know what we want and where we are heading and we also know what we want to achieve. When I came here two and a half years ago, our challenge was to decide which direction we should move. Our major focus areas were trade, people to people contact, direct flight services, tourism, and culture. As the two nations are not very far from each other, we wanted to take advantage of this unique geographical advantage. As I said, we have created a solid legal base and established Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technological Cooperation, which meets regularly. We have very good understanding with all government offices. They are very helpful to us, have been supporting us. And I will repeat with delight that, when you get this kind of support, you can achieve more than expected in bilateral relations. So, this is our target, we want to achieve more than we have today and more what we will have tomorrow. I believe in joint efforts and these are exactly what we have in India-Georgia relations.
We think about three pillars we want to work, its air connectivity, multimodal connectivity and also the free trade between our countries. This will be beneficial for all of us, for India and also for our neighboring countries. Also, we are doing very well in educational matters, there are Indian students who are getting education in Georgia and then when they come back to India and they will bring their knowledge for the benefit of the society here. We are also starting some students exchange programme so that students from Georgia can come to India as well.
What is the status of FTA between India and Georgia?
On January 11, 2019, Report on Completion of Joint Feasibility Study on Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and Georgia has been signed by Mr. B. B. Swain, Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of India and Mr. Genadi Arveladze, Deputy Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia, in Tbilisi. We express our hope that the first round of negotiations between the Georgian and the Indian sides on FTA will be conducted soon.
The cultural relation between India and Georgia date back to medieval times, how can relation be strengthened?
India and Georgia represent two ancient civilizations which are not far from each other, neither geographically, nor culturally. Throughout history, we were linked with the trade routes. Georgia and India are now attempting to re-discover these ties that existed from ancient times.
We have to re-discover also our cultural relations, how our cultures were interacting within the centuries. I will name the most famous book, the epic poem “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin”, written in the 12th century by Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli. The main character in the poem comes from India, so when you read this poem, you will surprisingly discover what a ties we have had thought the history. We want to bring this book to the public here, to know more about this epic poem. Now we are in a process to translate this book into the Hindi language.
India and Georgia also share a sacred connection, as some of the relics of our Saint Queen Ketevan, after her martyrdom for refusing to renounce her faith, were interred in St. Augustine’s Church in Goa, by Portuguese Monks. Her relics were discovered during the archaeological excavation in 2006 in Goa.
On September 24, 2017, following many years of extensive negotiations between the two countries, the relics of the 17th century Georgian Queen Ketevan, were temporarily transferred from India to Georgia. The relics were displayed at the Georgian National Museum and at the Holy Trinity Cathedral (Sameba) in Tbilisi, and were taken to other dioceses in Georgia. Under the transfer agreement, the relics of the beloved Saint Queen remained in Georgia for one year and then came back to Goa, India. This was an extremely important and valuable moment for our people and we are really grateful to the Indian government, the Archaeological Survey of India for sending the Holy Relics to Georgia.
We have already had four editions of Ketevan Festival in Goa which reunites peoples from different cultures and religions and people of different background. This year around hundred participants from across the world participated in the festival. We think that this festival can be organized not only in Goa but other parts of India also. On June 21, 2015, the first ever, International Day of Yoga was celebrated in Tbilisi, with over 200 participants.
The famous dancing national ballet of Georgia “Sukhishvili” came here and was a great success. We are really grateful to Hema Malini as she was the organizer and coordinator of the mega event in our bilateral cultural relations. This was a great “cultural exchange” that was perfectly demonstrated when the Georgian and Indian dancers performed together. It was truly a wonderful “SYNERGY” between the two cultures.
Please share some light on the bilateral trade relations between India and Georgia. What is the reason for the decline in trade between the two nations in the past few years?
The Embassy is working to support the enhancement the trade between the two nations. Our main target is to increase on the level which reflects the relations between our countries. I believe that if the two nations go ahead with free trade agreement, this will help us to improve the trade relations between Georgia and India. That is why I was talking about the connectivity projects. Because, when you trade, you have to send the goods. How are you going to do that, how many days will it take, what will be the cost involved in it? So this is what we are going to do to support the private sector to start using this route, to start trading with each other. We are looking at trade fairs and business delegations. Here we are in a position to increase the awareness within the business community. India is a land of great possibilities.
Georgia has implemented broad and comprehensive economic reforms addressed to stimulate attractive business environment in order to enhance foreign investments, encourage entrepreneurial activities, create new jobs, and increase the welfare of citizens. Implemented reforms have contributed to the creation of competitive market conditions and a business-enabling environment, as well as diversified international trade and Georgia’s economic ties, thus generating growth and development. By undertaking economic reform initiatives and ensuring a strong legal system to protect investor rights, Georgia has positioned itself as an attractive destination for foreign direct investment.
Which are the potential sectors for investment in Georgia?
We are giving all kinds of facilities to the investors to come, see, study and invest. Possibilities are there in many directions like agricultural projects, hydropower projects, logistical projects, like ports, real estate, tourism sectors, so the possibilities are vast.
Also, energy sector is likely to grow in Georgia in the coming years. Georgia is a member country of the Energy Charter and since July 1, 2017, Georgia became a full-fledged contracting party of the Energy Community.
To increase export potential, the Government of Georgia is developing and modernizing internal network system and transmission lines with all neighbouring countries. Considering that transit projects add great value to country’s political significance and energy security of the region, Georgia actively supports the development of different projects which would enable an alternative transport corridor for the Western markets. Georgia has great opportunities to invest in renewable energy sector and transport and logistics is another sector to grow, as the Government aims to enhance Georgia’s role as a logistics centre and a hub for doing business in the region.
Agriculture also remains an important sector in terms of GDP contribution and is expected to grow.
How many Indian companies have their operations in Georgia?
We have both big and small companies in Georgia. Big companies like Tata Power executing hydropower project in Georgia. We have some Georgian companies engaged in IT sector in India.
There are several measures that have been taken by the current government in India to ensure ease of doing business, will it increase the number of Georgian firms willing to invest in India?
I believe that when the incentive is on the offering, companies want to start trading, gain more knowledge and want to gain more understanding of the country, which is very important for them. So, I would like to congratulate India for this achievement for ease of doing business. When we look at figures at how swiftly India is developing and moving forward, ease of doing business is one indication in the direction.
How is tourism in Georgia? What are some places worth visiting for India’s interest there?
Tourism in Georgia is thriving due, in large part, to the diversity of our landscapes, culture, and an unrivaled reputation for hospitality to foreigners. The assortment of holiday destinations and recreational activities in any region of Georgia makes it easy for every tourist to find his, or her, own unique experience. From sun and sea, to alpine skiing or just roaming free, Georgian touristic infrastructure allows access to both urban and rural locations to accommodate tourists of all affinities and interests.
Architectural and historical sites from every era can be found in Georgia. Multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites are a favourite among history enthusiasts. The ancient capital of Mtskheta is a city of Orthodox Christian churches and monasteries. The range of architecture in Tbilisi, the modern capital, spans from medieval to postmodern.
The Greater Caucasus Mountains are home to some of the highest peaks in Europe. Skiing in Georgia’s resort towns of Mestia, Gudauri and Bakuriani (in the Lesser Caucasus) is reputed to induce a sense of raw excitement and freedom not experienced in similar areas of Europe. Skiing, heli-skiing, snowboarding and mountain climbing attract multitudes of thrill seekers.
Adventure tourism along Georgia’s Black Sea coast offers any and every summer sensation imaginable. Parasailing, windsurfing, water skiing and scuba diving the transparent waters of Sarpi and Gonio just south of Batumi, are among the many sun and sea activities to be enjoyed on Georgia’s historic west coast, known to be the destination of the mythical Argonauts.
Nature tourism in Georgia attracts campers and trekkers from around the world. Admirers of natural beauty, flora and fauna can find bliss in every direction across all regions of Georgia.
Georgian food and wine tourism is one of the major attractions. Georgian cuisine features a distinctive blend of influences from both east and west found in signature dishes including khinkali meat dumplings and khachapuri cheese pastry.
How can both countries work towards strengthening the tourism sector?
We have very good figures to show that many Indians are visiting Georgia. We are getting thousands of Indian tourists despite the two countries do not have any direct flights between them. There are both Indian and Georgian tour operators who want to work towards it.
Does Georgia want India to open a permanent Embassy there?
No doubt about it – Yes. India, one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with us does not have an Embassy in Georgia. Once the Indian Mission opens in Georgia, the trade and many other related fields will be facilitated, also will be more India in Georgia in terms of strengthening the exchange of our two beautiful cultures. We have so much to share. The opening of the Indian Embassy in Georgia would definitely strengthen this process.
Any message for our readers?
For the readers, as I consider myself one of them, the articles that you are reading in this magazine is very informative and useful, also giving us the opportunity to gain more knowledge about the different issues. I wish all the readers, to gain from your magazine and learn about Georgia.