DCFTA Implementation: Partnership, Push-backs & Potential Conference

The implementers of the EU-funded project ‘Georgia on the European Way: Effective Model for DCFTA and SME Strategy Implementation’ hosted the project’s closing conference, ‘DCFTA Implementation: Partnership, Push-backs and Potential’ at Holiday Inn, Tbilisi, on May 8.

After signing the Association Agreement with the EU in 2014, a crucial part of which is the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), Georgia has come closer to integration into the EU market. The DCFTA simultaneously represents both an opportunity and challenge for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), activating institutional and regulatory reforms and helping approximate Georgian standards to those of the EU. Yet, it demands change in production processes as well as regulations of activities. As such, during the implementation, Georgia faces many advantages as well as various challenges.

The EU-funded project ‘Georgia on the European Way’ was launched in 2017 and lasted until spring 2019. The main aim of the project was to raise awareness about the opportunities and advantages provided by the DCFTA between Georgia and the EU. During the process, implementers tried to increase the crucial role of Georgian civil organizations in a nationwide DCFTA/SME communication campaign to help local SMEs access the EU single market through their strong capabilities. The project was funded by the European Neighborhood Instrument and co-funded by the Lithuanian Development Cooperation and Democracy Promotion Program and the Slovak Official Development Assistance ‘SlovakAid.’

The project’s closing conference presented results in three main panels: 1) civil society engagement in economic development, 2) DCFTA and SME strategy implementation in Georgia and 3) DCFTA implementation in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

The conference was opened by Giedrius Puodziunas, Ambassador of Lithuania to Georgia; Pavel Vizdal, Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to Georgia; Carl Hartzell, Ambassador of the European Union to Georgia; Khatia Tsilosani, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia; and others. They congratulated Georgia on such a great project and highlighted the EU’s role as the biggest trade partner of Georgia. They talked about the standards Georgia has to approximate to those of the EU, and about the EU’s support in info-sharing, finance, entrepreneurship support, training programs for companies and more.

The civil society engagement panel looked into the current position of civil society organizations (CSO) and their capabilities to work on economic issues, helping the Georgian government and SMEs to effectively access the EU single market. The panelists talked about experiences and good practices for civil society organizations seen during the project, including their workshops, the act of delivering the right information about the DCFTA and EU, and the advantages, benefits, energy efficiency, EU directives, regulations, role of cooperatives and advocating for reforms and improvements to the implementation process. Results showed how CSO awareness had increased (before the project only 12% was very familiar with the DCFTA, and after 83%) but spotlighted the need for more trainings and consulting. At the conclusion of the project, the main results concluded that: 1) after the right communication and info-sharing, people had changed their standings towards the DCFTA, forming perspectives and breaking the old stereotypes; and 2) civil society organizations should be a key link between government and SMEs.

The session ‘DCFTA and SME Strategy implementation in Georgia’ focused on SME conditions today, surveying how they operate, what they export and on raising awareness of how SMEs can benefit from the DCFTA. The discussion included what progress has been achieved in Georgia-EU trade relations since signing the DCFTA, what kind of products the country exports to the EU, and the long-term progress that can be expected. The main obstacles for SMEs, such as getting the certificates needed to export, qualified employees, financial problems, language barriers, lack of laboratory centers, less active approach, were noted and it was advised that “Georgia should continue such projects,” and “needs to do more for further benefits.”

The last panel focused on ‘DCFTA Implementation in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine,’ looking at the varied challenges and perspectives and the impact on ordinary citizens. Panelists talked about what impact the DCFTA has on the countries’ economies, what progress has been achieved in the framework of the Eastern Partnership document ‘20 Deliverables for 2020,’ and emphasized what needs to be done further.

Overall, the topics discussed at the conference showed the real partnerships, push-backs and potential of DCFTA implementation. Georgia has come steps closer to integration into the European market; however, it has much more to do. Such projects are vitally important, the moderators and panelists agreed, and further awareness needs to be raised about the real benefits of the DCFTA for people throughout Georgia to help SMEs do their jobs more effectively and to those standards that the EU has and requires.

By Mariam Merabishvili

13 May 2019 17:59