By Eka Janashia (07/02/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On June 27, Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, the European Council’s President Herman van Rompuy, and the European Commission’s President José Manuel Barroso signed the Association Agreement (AA) including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), which was initialed at the EU’s Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November 2013. At the same ceremony, the EU inked the AA with Ukraine and Moldova. The AA sets priorities for the period of 2014-2016 to achieve closer political association and economic integration between Tbilisi and the EU.
“It is very difficult to express in words the feelings I am experiencing now. June 27 will be remembered as a historic and special day. Today a new big date is being written in the history of my homeland, which gives hope and which our future generations will be proud of,” PM Garibashvili said at the signing ceremony. In his speech, Garibashvili also addressed Abkhazians and South Ossetians, pledging that a step towards the EU will bring benefits for them too.
The signature of the AA was initially planned for the end of this year but developments in Ukraine induced Brussels to accelerate the process. The AA has replaced the EU-Georgia European Neighborhood Policy Action Plan of 2006 and involves both political and economic components. It envisages reforms aimed at enhancing the quality of democracy by strengthening the rule of law, independence of the judiciary, respect for human rights, as well as peaceful conflict resolution, and cooperation on justice, freedom, and security. The economic component includes the DCFTA and stipulations on cooperation in the energy, transport, employment and social policy sectors.
To this end, Georgia should establish an adequate institutional framework comprising an Association Council, committees, subcommittees and trade-related working groups as well as monitoring mechanisms which will ensure Georgia’s gradual approximation to EU standards and regulations in trade, customs procedures and quality controls. Although the process of approximation does not imply eventual integration with the EU, it paves the way for potential membership at some point in the future.
Georgia is supposed to ratify the agreement in the second half of July. Whereas the process of ratification by the parliaments of EU member states might take several years, the treaty foresees provisional application that could start tentatively in October 2014.
The EU will support the process of implementing the AA through providing financial, technical, information sharing and capacity building support. In July, Brussels envisages the adoption of new assistance programs worth 101 million Euros to advance Georgia’s justice sector and the potential of small and medium business.
After signing the AA, PM Garibashvili welcomed Russia’s “constructive” approach. In his words, Moscow pledged not to obstruct the process and it kept the promise. However, on June 25, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that if the DCFTA between the EU, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova harms the free trade regime of the Commonwealth of Independent States’ (CIS), Moscow will apply “protective measures in complete accordance with the WTO rules.” In response, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso stated that “these Agreements are for something, not against anyone” and that the EU does not seek exclusive relationship with these partners.
The Trade Sustainability Impact Assessment 2012 report, commissioned by the EU, examined the DCFTA’s potential impact on Georgia’s economy. It suggests that the DCFTA might increase Georgia’s GDP by 4.3 percent in the long-term. Tentatively, full implementation of the trade-related reforms will increase Georgia’s exports to the EU by 12 percent and its imports by 7.5 percent, which will improve the country’s long-lasting trade deficit.
While these estimations are based on a long-term perspective, it is unclear what the immediate consequences would be of the “protective measures” that Moscow may impose on Georgia due to the alleged negative implications of DCFTAs between the EU, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova for the CIS free trade zone. Georgian and Russian experts have even arranged technical consultations to examine the potential effects of the DCFTA on trade between Russia and Georgia.
According to Georgia’s state statistics office, Georgia’s export to CIS member countries in January-May 2014 reached US$ 627.6 million, compared to US$ 253 million to the EU. Moreover, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia constituted Georgia’s largest export markets at US$ 240.4 million, 129.7 million, and 108.3 million, respectively.
However, the DCFTA does not restrict the existence of FTAs between Georgia and other countries. Georgia has bilateral free trade agreements (FTA) with major trading partners including Russia and Turkey, and penetration into the EU market will not necessarily take place at the detriment of those of post-Soviet countries.
Although the AA has both political and economic components, the latter has attracted more attention from the public and observers. Most Georgians seemingly assess the agreement in light of the opportunities the AA may provide in terms of improving welfare and the country’s overall economic performance rather than as an instrument for enhancing the quality of democracy.