The 20th Georgia-Israel Business Forum

On April 30, the 20th Georgia-Israel Business Forum was held in Tbilisi. Nearly 100 businessmen and women from Israel attended the forum, including some making their first foray into considering doing business in Georgia.

President of the Israel-Georgia Chamber of Business, Itzik Moshe, spoke to attendees last week, saying that “Georgia has huge potential. Israel has knowledge, finances. We should intensify cooperation, and I believe we can regain the 2008-2009 indicators and Israel will become Georgia’s leading partner again.” Moshe also called on the Government of Georgia to support current Israeli investors and future foreign direct investment in Georgia by taking steps to “determine the sectors where it wants to attract investors from Israel.”

Georgian-Israeli relations soured in the period leading to the Russia-Georgia August 2008 War, and collapsed following the war, and other events, including Israel’s withdrawal of military support a few months before the August War, under believed pressure from Russia.

A March 2012 article published in Tabula magazine by Dimitri Avaliani claims that 70,000 – 80,000 Georgian Jews moved to Israel after the opening of the borders of the Soviet Union. This population has settled, growing deep roots, starting families. “The Georgian Diaspora in Israel maintains close cultural and economic links with [Georgia]. Georgian Jews, at various times, have been represented in the Knesset, as well as in the executive branch and local government. They are also prominent in scientific and business spheres. Their prominence helps to maintain the popularity of Georgia among Israeli social and political circles,” wrote Avaliani.

The most sentient elements for the relationship between Georgia and Israel are security and economics: “It is clearly in Israel’s interest to prevent the South Caucasus from turning into a foothold for forces hostile to Israel,” noted Avaliani. In February 2012, an official visit to Israel from a Georgian delegation led by then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Grigol Vashadze marked a thaw in the diplomatic tensions. During that meeting, Vashadze spoke with top-level Israeli officials, discussing opportunities to strengthen bilateral cooperation, in trade and economy.

At the 20th Georgia-Israel Business Forum last week, Moshe emphasized Israel’s positive attitude towards Georgia, but noted that cooperation should be deepened. “Business does not mean only figures...this is an economic bridge between two countries,” he said.

“Naturally, there are a lot of investors and there are a lot of problems too. We will keep working on resolving problems and attracting new investors in a parallel regime,” Moshe continued, noting that “Israel’s contribution to the Georgian economy is about $1 billion, including the tourism sector, which accounts for 50%.”

There were 30 events organized during the week, labeled “Israeli Week” by the Israel Georgia Chamber of Business, to commemorate 30 years of relations between the countries. Events included a commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust at Rustaveli Theater for Israel’s Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day).

In May 2018, Georgia’s then-Minister of Economy Dimitry Kumsishvili and the Minister of Economy and Industry of Israel, Eli Cohen, met in Tbilisi to sign a declaration on launching a free trade feasibility study between Georgia and Israel. The study aims to investigate ways that investment ties between the two countries can be expanded along with increased awareness of Georgia as an investment opportunity in Israel.

“I strongly believe that the establishment of a free trade regime between Georgia and Israel will be beneficial for both countries,” Kumsishvili told reporters after signing the document.

By Samantha Guthrie

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06 May 2019 17:22