The FINANCIAL -- “There is a problem with migration, but as soon as the development of human rights and the rule of law will be fully implemented in the country I am sure that the problem will be easily solved,” Federica Favi, Ambassador of Italy to Georgia, told The FINANCIAL. She said that the recent period has been a transition period in terms of waiting for the political and for the presidential elections to end the period of cohabitation. This caused some delay in the economic activity of Italy in Georgia. And as well as this, there was a bit of a delay with the opening, maintaining and proposing of new projects.
“Georgian-Italian businesses were not so active over the last year because of the political changes in the country. But the expectation for 2014 is that Georgia will perform very well. Such a rich country as Georgia is in terms of culture and cultural heritage should spend more money on promoting its beauty.”
Q. What are the positive and negative changes that you have noticed since the change of government in 2012?
A. I see that Georgia is making progress in a continuing line of foreign policy. And this is an important thing in my opinion, it means being more European. I am seeing Georgia proceeding in the western direction very convincingly with a number of targets already reached. I am very happy that the economic situation for now, after being a bit slow last year, is progressing. It’s very important that the authorities are engaged in enhancing the economy because it will have positive effects on the country. I see developments also from the fact that finally there is a big difference between before and now. We have opposition in the parliament so this means that Georgia is really proceeding down a democratic path. It will help the economy and social developments. Being European, we wish Georgia to be extremely close to our values and I know that Georgia is proud of being a European country.
Q. What is the total number of Italian companies established in Georgia?
A. The biggest investment in Georgia has been in the agriculture sector. It is Ferrero, the Italian company which produces nuts, and also has a huge industry of chocolates.
With the Association Agreement and DCFTA Georgia will be ready to export more and better products to Europe in larger and differentiated markets. We have a similar economy to Georgia, relative to small and medium enterprises. I see that Georgia can develop these kinds of companies.
Q. Could you tell us please what the predicted volume of direct investments is for 2014?
A. It’s too early to say the volume of FDI at the beginning of the year; we have already brought 20 companies here. There is an extremely high level of producers of Italian products here. They may become involved in the development of production in Georgia, also work on investment and the distribution sector development that Georgia needs. The idea is to meet each other and develop the wish that we have from Italy. Also it depends on the condition that we find the market in, so there should be engagement from the Georgian side. It seems that they are very happy. I think that we will find a concrete result from the event and we plan to make a similar event to this, bringing various companies from Italy, to this sector. Also we imagine other sectors for investment, from Sicilian companies for example that are very interested in getting involved.
Q. Why did Italian companies decide to open businesses in Georgia now? Is it linked to the upcoming AA agreement?
A. Yes, of course they have an expectation that Georgia will set up a number of rules that put the country in a perfectly growing line with our standards, this is one of the reasons. The other one is that we are really close as economies, they can discuss things, be in touch and cooperate with your companies in a very easy way, because they are the same size; also because there is the expectation that Georgia will perform very well in 2014.
Q. Do you see any threat of a repetition of the Ukrainian scenario in Georgia before finally signing the AA?
A. I am aware that the Ministry of European Integration and Euro-Atlantic Integration is working on a communication strategy to inform the larger public in Georgia about the correct content and chances and problems which can be brought about by the Association Agreement. In the life of a country sometimes sacrifices are needed to improve, to become better, to become more skilled, and to become richer. That is what Italy has done in the past when it took the decision to be one of the creators of the European Union and we continue to agree with our economic standards. I am sure that Georgia, understanding this, will be less vulnerable than other countries of eastern partnership to possible external pressures. Also, the European Union and especially European Union ambassadors in Tbilisi are working on a visibility strategy with a number of events for the larger public to explain who we are, what we are doing, why we are together and what our values and expectations are.
Q. What is the number of Italians living in Georgia?
A. We have about 100 Italians officially registered in Georgia. But we have an increasing number of workers coming to Georgia for shorter periods and this is related to jobs that our Italian companies obtain in Georgia. Of course they bring part of the labour force from Italy. And of course if we develop this kind of investment and develop the projects that we lead in Georgia in this case we will have a larger amount of Italian and of course the largest amount of Georgians involved in the work.
Q. What are the obstacles that foreign investors face in Georgia?
B. I see one obstacle, and this obstacle is property for let to foreigners. If you want to develop the agriculture sector in which Italians can be absolutely involved, the solution should be found in property for let.
Q. We all know that there are a large number of illegal Georgian migrants in Italy. Meanwhile, Georgia is in talks regarding the visa liberalization process. What are the prospects?
A. As far as there is a mission agreement, we see that the cooperation in this sector is really very satisfactory. Of course illegal migration is something that is not pleasant for either country. And I am confident that the growth of the economy in the country that is foreseen by the international institutions can help, because similar to Italians, I am sure that Georgians prefer to live in their own country rather than being illegal in another country. So as soon as the development of human rights and the rule of law will be fully implemented in the country I am sure that the problem will be easily solved.
Q. Italy has a long history of having a developed tourism industry. The sector was one of the main priorities of our previous government. This year the country spent just USD 1,000 on an advertisement campaign. How would you rate this decision?
A. It is a bit strange for a country so rich in culture and cultural heritage to spend just USD 1,000 on its advertising campaign. I really think that great effort should be done to promote your beautiful country. The development of the agriculture sector is very closely related to tourism. I am in contact with many interlocutors also to see if they would be interested in creating a school for tourism in Georgia. We have a number of high level institutions in Italy which can help to establish a proper institution or high level school for tourism to develop all the sectors needed in tourism.
Nobody in my country knows Georgia very well. When I say that I am Ambassador to Georgia Italians normally say “Oh, poor you, it must be very cold there,” to which I say no, that is not true.
Last week we made a very successful presentation of Italian archaeological missions in Georgia, in cooperation with our Georgian counterparts. You have such wonderful things, one of which is the mosaic that you have in Mukhrani, which represents the Dionysius. There are not many countries that can be proud of having such a wonderful artefact.