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Friday, March 02, 2007

Georgian Lion Gobbles Russian Bear

The Moscow Times reports:

The resumption of normal relations with Georgia depends on its behavior toward Russia and Georgia's secessionist regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Rossiiskaya Gazeta on Wednesday.

But the bait of restored relations, which were severed last October after the escalation of a spy dispute between Tbilisi and Moscow, is not enticing to Georgia, as its current and predicted growth rates do not appear to be suffering unduly, business groups in the country say.

In an interview published Wednesday, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said the embargo had actually led to greater foreign investment in the country. "I always say thank you for this embargo, and I mean it," he said, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The results Russia expected from its embargo on trade, transport, communications and money transfers to and from Georgia did not follow, and the Caucuses country managed to survive economically, said Esben Emborg, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia.

While Georgia might lose about $400 million in exports to Russia, more than $1 billion in foreign direct investment is expected this year, said Robert Christiansen, the International Monetary Fund's resident representative in Georgia, canceling the Russian losses out. Earlier, foreign direct investment of $500 million to $600 million was expected, he said.

As late as December, the IMF anticipated slower growth for 2007, of 6 percent to 7 percent, as a result of the Russian embargo. Since then, the IMF, which will meet on Thursday to review the situation in Georgia, has amended its figures upward, expecting growth of 8 percent to 9 percent in 2007.

Emborg said he expected growth of more than 10 percent this year. While specific sectors such as wine would suffer, the overall impact of the embargo on the Georgian economy was limited, he said. Although the gas supply from Russia has been cut off, Azerbaijan now supplies 80 percent of Georgian needs.

In the longer term, the embargo might turn out to be more negative for Russia than for Georgia, which has been searching quickly for new markets since being shut out of Russia, Emborg said.

Already, the Gulf Emirate of Ras al-Khaimah has agreed to implement an $817 million real estate project in Tbilisi following Saakashvili's visit to the United Arab Emirates last month.

Dubai Ports World, the third-largest port operator in the world, is considering a multimillion-dollar project in Georgia's largest harbor, Poti, news agency Civil.Ge reported Jemal Inaishvili, deputy speaker of the parliament and president of the Georgian Chamber of Trade and Commerce, as saying.

Kazakhstan has also been investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Georgia since last year, including in hotels, telecoms, the Poti port and the gas distribution company Tbilgazi, which was bought by KazTransGaz in May 2006.

Ironically, Russia is still Georgia's largest trading partner, Emborg said. Now the trade goes via neighboring countries.

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