Caucasus tested by another union06.07.2011 | 14:58
The idea of setting up a customs union between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey is again discussed by the expert community. Director of the Oil Research Center Ilham Shaban took the floor after the head of the Center for Strategic Planning Ahmed Shirinov. He says the union might be established by the time Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway starts operating. The prospect of the project and the possible motivation of members of the potential association have been discussed by GeorgiaTimes correspondent with an expert of the Institute of Strategic Assessment and Analysis Sergey Demidenko
Analysis Sergey Demidenko.
"Our countries are each other's continuation and ending and are parts of one single organism", - President of Sakartvelo Mikhail Saakashvili exclaimed a year ago, adding that Georgia and Azerbaijan were to set up confederative relations, for their cooperation "went beyond the limits of common partnership and union".
Tbilisi and Baku have set up neither confederation, nor any other kind of association since then. However, not so long ago, political experts started taking about the probable establishment of a customs union between Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan. As was stated by Director of Azerbaijani Center for Strategic Planning Ahmed Shirinov, such structure must be based on the same principles as the European Union, which means it must represent a single socio-economic space with a single currency and a single customs space without inner control at the borders. Shirinov also stated his assuredness that this union would be vastly beneficial, especially from the point of view of a common market. As for Turkey, the forming of a common customs space could allow Ankara to prove the importance of its geopolitical role in the South Caucasus to the European Union. In Shirinov's opinion, it is Georgia that could benefit most of all from the union, for it "exists solely due to Azerbaijan and Turkey".
Indeed, according to the latest reviews of the Georgian National Statistics Service, Turkey and Azerbaijan are among Sakartvelo's three largest trade partners. Within the latest year and a half, the goods turnover between Tbilisi and Ankara has grown by 139 million dollars, having amounted to 539 million. The trade with Azerbaijan is also gaining speed (347 million dollars). Besides, Baku has become leader in the volume of exported Georgian products.
Despite the benefit mentioned by political experts, neither Ankara, nor Baku is ready to make any loud statements about their "brotherly" intentions. No wonder: Georgia's foreign debt continues growing, while the rhetoric in respect of Russia is turning more and more aggressive. One of these days, the republic's MFA confirmed that Tbilisi has not yet received a formal offer of a union. "On the whole, the offer of establishing a single Caucasian space has been voiced before, including by President Mikhail Saakashvili, though no one spoke of specifying the initiative", - deputy head of the Georgian foreign policy administration Nino Kalandadze tried to bluff it out.
Still, the expert community goes on talking about the economic benefit of the mythic customs union. One of these days, Director of the Banking Center of Oil Research Ilham Shaban expressed hope that the unification of the three countries will take place by the time Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway starts operating. "It would become a strong motive for regional development and would clearly show Europe the way an exemplary model can be created", - he added.
GeorgiaTimes correspondent has talked to a famous Russian expert Sergey Demidenko about whether the union of Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan is promising. In the expert's opinion, it is quite clear that the leading part is played by Ankara. "It has got economic interests in the first place, - the expert remarked. - But one should not forget about the political aspect, for Turkey claims the role of a state that would link together the western and eastern civilizations. Roughly speaking, this country uses any chance to raise its economic status and its activity in the Caucasus should be perceived in this context. Ankara uses Georgia and Azerbaijan's aspiration for cooperation with the West and Turkey, which they also perceive as a member of the western community".
Our interlocutor is sure that a customs union would be useful for Georgia. "The country's economy is not at its best right now and the political situation is surely far from perfect as well, - Demidenko believes. - In this respect, Tbilisi also uses any opportunity to highlight its status and improve the economic situation somehow".
Answering the question about whether the Customs Union will be established by 2013, the expert underlined that it is difficult to name any dates. "I'm inclined to think that Turkey won't enhance the process, - he believes. - I don't think Turkey is more interested in the issue than in strengthening its status in the Middle East, I mean, this is no priority. That is why there will be a lot of difficulties. Of course, there is nothing impossible but I do not believe the issue will be settled in the nearest time".