British Trade Envoy to Georgia & Armenia on Georgia's Potential in Britain

Before launching a career in Parliament, Mr. Mark Pritchard, MP, ran a marketing consultancy firm advising large blue-chip companies and multinationals all over Europe, including those that wanted to enter markets in the former Eastern Bloc. For the last 12 years, Mr. Pritchard has been a Conservative Member of Parliament, and is also on the Speaker’s Panel, allowing him to chair legislation and debates in the British Parliament, similar to a deputy speaker. Furthermore, he has also been appointed as the UK representative on the Council of Europe, and the Trade and Investment Envoy to both Georgia and Armenia.

GEORGIA TODAY sat down with Mr. Pritchard to discuss the future of Georgian-British trade relations.

Give us a summary of the history of Britain’s economic relationship with Georgia, the sectors Britain has focused its investment and efforts in, as well as examples of key projects

Bilateral relations between the United Kingdom and Georgia are excellent. We’ve just had a very successful strategic dialogue in London with Foreign Minister Mr. Mikheil Janelidze. This followed the excellent meeting I had with Prime Minister Kvirikashvili a few weeks ago. I am due to meet some more high-ranking Ministers in the near future.

The sectors we are focusing on are environment and infrastructure, education, finance and banking, and retail. Those are huge potential growth areas. Next year I hope to lead a Trade Mission from the UK, and we will be inviting companies that have a particular interest in those sectors.

With regards to finance and banking, pensions is an area where the City of London have expertise. If asked by the Georgian government and the private sector, we hope to try and help advise and share our experience on the best practice for managing pensions, and pension reform.

As for education, I think that there is huge potential for British companies, both in secondary and tertiary education, from helping shape the academic curriculum to publishing, through to the physical infrastructure of building new technical colleges and accommodation for students.

Furthermore, I think that infrastructure is also a sector that we can help with. Georgia has huge infrastructure development plans, in energy, network and communications. If Georgia wants to be a hub for trading and investment as it used to be hundreds of years ago, then the UK can help to build the communication and logistics, rail network and other infrastructure that will allow Georgia to prosper as a regional hub. I believe that Georgia is capable of fulfilling this goal, and it’s already on the right path to doing so.

How have the ongoing Brexit talks affected the UK’s trade strategy internationally? Can we expect a deepening of economic ties between London and Tbilisi in the post-Brexit age?

This isn’t a one-way relationship. It is in the mutual national and strategic interest of both countries for both the United Kingdom and Georgia to prosper. It’s a win-win if we get it right. I know that both governments are committed to getting it right. We want to see more trade and investment in Georgia by British companies, but we are also very happy to see exports of Georgian goods and services to the UK. Two of the major banks in Georgia are listed in the London Stock Exchange, and are very successful, in many ways they are as much British companies as they are Georgian companies, so we’d like to see more of that.

As far as how trade and investment are linked to diplomacy and politics, I would say that they are separate. I’m not talking about transactional diplomacy or transactional politics; diplomacy and security are completely different to trade and investment. I’m not a Politician, even though I’m a member of Parliament. I’m not a Diplomat, even though I studied diplomacy, and it’s not security, even though I used to be on our National Security Strategy Committee. It is about trade and investment, that is my focus, the rest I will leave to the Ambassador and his excellent Embassy team.

Brexit provides new opportunities. We are leaving the European Union not Europe. My hope is that Georgia will be top of the list, front of the queue, to have an early bilateral trade deal with the United Kingdom. That doesn’t mean having something brand new, but building on the current association agreement and the deep and comprehensive free trade that Georgia already has with the European Union, so the bilateral trade deal with the United Kingdom will be transitioned from the existing agreements that Georgia has with the European Union, of which the United Kingdom is still a part of.

Can you provide any concrete figures of future British Investment in the aforementioned sectors?

They are potentially very significant. What British investors are looking for is political stability, low taxation, transparency, ease of doing business, lack of corruption, and also recourses in commercial courts of arbitration, should there be any disputes over contracts or payments. All of those are pretty much in place in Georgia, though there could be some improvements in some areas. As along as Georgia’s political landscape remains stable, as well as its security relationship with its neighbors, there is no reason why we cannot see a significant increase in British trade and investment here. Certainly, there is a lot of genuine interest. When trade delegations visit and when British companies approach Georgian ministries and departments, they are well-received, and the information they request is available openly and freely. I think that the future for British trade and investment is a bright and positive one.

Máté Földi

13 November 2017 18:40