Georgia’s Great Potential

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Jan van Bilsen, IFC Regional Manager for the South Caucasus, talks to Andrew Wrobel about Georgia’s great potential, as well as some of the challenges it still faces.

IFC has been in Georgia for over two decades. In which areas have you been active over the years?

Here in Georgia we have been quite active in the financial sector, doing what we can to make sure that it is stable. A stable financial sector is an important base for the economic climate of the country.  We began the relationship 22 years ago and we’ve been working with large banks, some small banks and microfinance banks. As we do not deal with smaller companies ourselves directly, we use the banks as vehicles. We provide the funding. We also provide them with technical assistance. We also support the financial sector through capital market development.

With our colleagues at the World Bank, we also focus on the public sector. We work quite closely with the World Bank as we’re developing the capital markets further, in terms of pension reform. We know what is needed for capital market development. You need to have a local institutional investor base, and that is done by means of pension companies, pension funds, insurance companies and such like.

Jan van Bilsen
Jan van Bilsen (courtesy of IFC)

What is the situation of small and medium enterprises in the country and what are their challenges?

The broader context is that Georgia has progressed a lot over the past decade. The government is very business friendly. A lot of improvements have been made in terms of investment climate. Therefore, the economy is growing. We see that it’s increasing the appetite to do business in the country not only from Georgians themselves, but also from overseas. There is clearly a positive feeling at the moment towards Georgia that the government is making use of.

What we think is needed for Georgia to develop further is to focus more on exports. Studies on development have shown that there is no country in the world with a population of 10 million people that has managed to achieve middle income status without having at least 50 per cent of GDP represented by exports. Georgia is currently exporting around 43 per cent of GDP.

Once exports increase the country will continue to grow further and to improve standards of living, and therefore reduce poverty and everything that accompanies that. They need to increase exports, and they’re working on it.

But for that to happen — now that I have put it a bit into context — the country needs to improve on productivity. It needs to make sure it has a more competitive business sector. They also need to offer international standards. There are only certain sectors in which this is happening, while the other sectors still have room to grow into that sense.

SMEs are particularly important here. It’s not only the large corporations: that is where we come in. You need to stimulate the activity and economic direction of the country. Not only for the large hydro power projects – attracting the foreign direct investment for that is of course important — but it is even more important to stimulate the SMEs, and they need to be encouraged not just in the cities but in rural areas. Rural development is also a challenge.

The SMEs themselves have indicated that access to finance is the main obstacle. That’s why it is so crucial that the banks need to secure their own funding base.

What about entrepreneurial spirit? I have heard a couple of people saying that in rural areas especially it’s tough to convince people to stay and develop their own businesses. They would rather move to Tbilisi or other bigger cities.

I think that statement is true, but at the same time it’s probably not a lot different from what you see in other countries as well. People move into the cities. What the government needs to do is improve infrastructure, because in order to stimulate entrepreneurship in the rural areas you must make sure that there are good connections to those areas.

Then you have to teach the locals skills, creating a labour force if there is a mismatch between demand and supply. Then we need to improve education, making sure that people have an understanding of what it means to do business. Entrepreneurship increases with a higher level of skills and education. In the agricultural sector, food processing needs development. There’s no reason to process food in the cities: it can be done in the rural areas where the agri-production takes place. But then this, of course, feeds back into the point about infrastructure. You must make sure that you can get around easily. The point is that in order to stimulate entrepreneurship and SMEs, all sorts of things are needed. It goes beyond access to finance.

When it come to exports, which you have said are crucial to development, how do you think the Association Agreement with the EU will help? Are Georgian companies – such as the food producers that we were talking about – actually ready to start exporting to the EU?

Some of them are, but more work needs to be done, not least with infrastructure, which keeps cropping up. Other things which are important – not least with food – include food safety standards. These need to be at high enough levels for the EU. We are currently advising agribusiness companies on food safety precisely for this reason.

Another area crucial to the agricultural sector in general is the integration of the value chain. For companies active in the agricultural sector, it is important to look not only at a standalone, isolated business but to see that they feed into a whole value chain. That includes areas such as investor protection, which they need to have. It’s to get the growth into the skilled work force.

Then there is marketing and logistics. This needs to improve for the Georgian agri-business sector to be more successful at exporting. This applies not just to exports for the EU but to all exports.

The good thing about Georgia that you notice is that the government is receptive. You can have meetings with them and say, “We think this is needed,” and then they are out there and willing to listen and accommodate, and see what is needed. In terms of that, I would say Georgia is way ahead of most other countries.

Georgia realises that before exports to the European Union can increase, they need to work on promoting their products. We are also working on promoting Georgia — there’s a lot of work going on.

What do you think has made Georgia so open to business, and so pro-European when compared with the other two countries in the region?

I think history has a lot to do with it. My take on it is that there is clearly a correlation between having a transparent and open business environment and government, and having an industrial sector open for private business, or the private sector, in a competitive manner. In a number of other former Soviet Union countries, and other countries around the globe, this part of the economy is not evolving. That does not stimulate competition. That does not stimulate entrepreneurship.

I’m sure the Georgians have their own interpretation and can judge this better. But in my view, the changes that have happened in Georgia since the Rose Revolution of 2003 have been big. The level of corruption has been scaled back to an incredibly low level. Beforehand it was everywhere. Having that openness and not having a business sector dominated by oligarchs, and having a basic connection between business and the private sector, creating an environment of openness, that really helps.

In a country where the majority of business sectors are controlled, there is little competition. In such countries entrepreneurship is not stimulated. You will fall behind.

Georgia has realised this. It’s opening up the private sector on all fronts. That’s what you see the government saying time and again. The public sector is there to support, but not to lead the economy.

My final question is about regional integration, with Georgia as a transport or logistics hub, a part of the so-called the New Silk Road or One Belt One Road Initiative. How do you see the potential here?

There is clearly potential, because of the location of Georgia between Europe and Asia, and because of the need for alternative transport routes that do not pass through Russia. What is needed is good infrastructure and cooperation between nations in order to transport goods easily from east to west. Or vice versa. Georgia is in contact with China, with the Chinese government, and will encourage Chinese and other Asian companies to set up assembly or manufacturing plants here.

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Lithuanian Grocery Giant Maxima Set For Polish Expansion

maxima

China-Georgia FTA Takes Effect

TBILISI GEORGIA - SEPTEMBER 28: Top view of Tbilisi downtown Georgia on September 28 2016. Tbilisi is a capital and largest city of Georgia.

Emerging Europe Makes Some Progress on Closing Gender Gap

world economic forum gender gap report

Poland Stays Cool on Euro Adoption

Euro cash and Zloty on one photo.

IFC Invests 30 Million Euros in Ukrainian Packaging Firm

IMMER Ukrplastic

Outsourcing Sector Driving CEE Office & Graduate Demand

wroclaw office

EU Triggers Article 7 Against Poland

CRACOW POLAND - JULY 23 2017: Another day in Cracow thousands of people protest against violation the constitutional law in Poland. Defense of the triad of division of power free election and independence of the highest court in Poland

Toyota Announces 400 Million Zloty Polish Investment

toyota

Visegrád Divided

visegrad

NATO Opens New Moldova Office

NATO Moldova

Mixed Results for Emerging Europe in Legatum Prosperity Index

prosperity

Bulgaria: Real Estate’s New Frontier?

Lviv Is the Pearl and the Soul of Ukraine

Economy Minister: Internationalisation Is the Key To the Slovenian Economy

Romanian President Appoints Country’s First Female PM

viorica dancila prime minister of romania

Mobilising Private Sector Investment in Belarus, Moldova & Ukraine

IFC

Meghri Becomes Armenia’s Third FEZ

armenia emerging europe

Global Players Dash for Tempting CEE

dollar pound euro coin on euro background.

One in Five Poles Unaware of Source of Funds for 500 Plus Programme

Steep Jump in Georgian Exports

container ship in import export and business logistic.By crane Trade Port Shipping.cargo to harbor.Aerial view.Top view.

Emerging Europe Key to China’s Belt & Road Plans

freight, ship, trade

GSA Names Ukraine as UK’s Offshoring Destination of the Year

map of ukraine emerging europe

Kraków: Officially Emerging Europe’s Most Elegant City

Krakow. Image of Krakow Market square, Poland during sunrise.

Bulgaria Takes on EU Presidency

Sofia, Bulgaria - September 12, 2017: Architectural complex in downtown of Sofia in which the Presidential Administration is located, Sofia, Bulgaria

CEE Playing Catch Up on R&D Spending

science, r&d

HSBC Opens Warsaw China Desk

Sarajevo Stock Exchange Connected to SEE Link

sarajevo stock exchange

The Peculiar Growth of Poland

KRAKOW POLAND - JUNE 2017: logo of Galeria Krakowska shopping center.

Romanian Car Maker Dacia Sees Sales Boom

Sables d Olonne France - May 07 2017 : Dacia Tour 2017 is a commercial operation organized by the car builder in order to present its cars throughout France - Close-up on cars

Bulgaria Ski Resort Plans Concern WWF

Bansko, Bulgaria - December, 6, 2015: Two Bansko cable car cabins and snow mountains peaks

Valga and Valka – Where Estonia and Latvia Work Together

Valga valka emerging europe

21st century Manufacturing Arrives at Great Stone

Great stone

The Azerbaijani Laundromat: Why It Matters

azerbaijani money laundering

Košice Business Matchmaking Event Brings in Hungarians

kosice, slovakia

Fitch And the World Bank: Economic Growth To Remain Solid Within CEE In 2016

China Eyes Moldovan Trade Agreement

CRICOVA MOLDOVA July 24 2017 :Underground wine cellar with collection of bottles in niches. Winery with 120 km of underground passages for wine storage

Kosovo: A Population of Talented Young Entrepreneurs Waits at Europe’s Door

Mayor: Armenia And Its Capital Yerevan Offer Safe Investment And Tourism To a Growing World

After Its Significant Rise the Georgian Economy May Now Fall

Panorama of Tbilisi, Georgia in sunset rays. Vivid, saturated, splittoned image.

Georgian PM Reshapes and Reshuffles Cabinet

Giorgi Kvirikashvili

Budget Chaos Hits Romanian Leu

Different Romanian Lei Banknotes on the table

Nadiya Savchenko: I Dream of a Great Ukraine

Panorama of the top part of the Andrew's Descent from Castle Hill in springtime in Kiev Ukraine.

WEF: Emerging Europe Ready for the Future

robotic machine tool in industrial manufacture plant,Smart factory industry 4.0 concept.

CEE Emigrants Could Boost Their Countries’ Economies

Londoners walking through Millennium Bridge with St.Paul's Cathedral at the background after sunset - London, UK

Bulgaria Keen on Euro Adoption

FRANKFURT GERMANY - MAY 16 2014: Euro Sign. European Central Bank (ECB) is the central bank for the euro and administers the monetary policy of the Eurozone in Frankfurt Germany.

Chickens Blamed for Romanian Budget Deficit

Two white chickens or hens inside a chicken coop or hen house seen through chicken wire.

Slovenia: Emerging Europe’s Hidden Giant

ljubljana slovenia

Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Boss Survives, For Now

Artem Sytnyk

The End of Poland’s Shale Gas Eldorado

Putin Urges Belarus to End Oil Transit Through Lithuania

Athens Greece - May 27 2016: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers

Ukraine’s Q2 Growth Climbs

kyiv ukraine emerging europe

Education Reform Key to Continued Georgian Success

tbilisi children

Georgia’s Growth Continues

Batumi, Adjara, Georgia - May 27, 2016: Batumi, Adjara, Georgia. Gogebashvili Street Road And Marine Station Or Maritime Station Building Batumi On Background

Romanian Transport Infrastructure Failures Pile Up

Cernavoda Romania - June 20 2012: Construction works at the A2 highway connecting Romania's capital Bucharest to Constanta.

Romanian Cyber Security Firm Valued at 600 million US dollars in Private Equity Swoop

cyber security

IMF Concludes Latest Moldova Review, Releases New Money

Reflection of a Soviet building in Chisinau Republic of Moldova

Emerging Europe Looking Good in Best-Performing Cities Index

Budapest, Hungary. Aerial view of the old city Budapest, Hungary with river and Parliament Building with cloudy blue sky

Czech Republic Approves 2018 Budget

Ten czech crown coins money on black marble background

CEE: Innovate or Get Eaten

innovation

Business Standards Are High in SEE But Vary Widely

Aerial view of The Cathedral of the Assumption in Varna

China Agrees to Build High-Tech Business Park in Serbia

BELGRADE SERBIA - SEPTEMBER 29 2016: View on the city center and the junction of Rivers Sava and Danube in Belgrade Serbia.

Estonia Leads Baltics in Cutting Sugar in Food and Drink

Doing Business Across Eurasia Could Be Easier

Eurasia emerging europe schneider group

Young Georgians Make Their Mark at Emerging Europe-EBRD Event

maximilien lambertson at emergeing ebrd outlook on georgia

Romanian Cabinet Reshuffled as New Splits Emerge in Ruling Party

BUCHAREST ROMANIA - MAY 25 2014: The Victoria Palace. Victoria Square.

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