Swiss SGS: Between Russia and Georgia15.01.2013 | 15:15
The Georgian Foreign Ministry has begun studying the issue of monitoring of goods at the Russian-Georgian border. The agreement was signed in late 2011 by the former authorities of Georgia: membership in the WTO in exchange for monitoring of goods at the border with Georgia, including the border with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This is the compromise Russia had agreed on in exchange for support of Tbilisi in the matter of membership in the World Trade Organization. The head of the Foreign Ministry of Georgia Maya Panjikidze notes that "certain details will be known in the near future".
Some of the details are known. Control over the goods will be carried out by the Swiss company SGS - one of the world's leader in inspection, verification, testing and certification activities. Number of the company employees exceeds 70 thousand people working in more than 1,350 offices and laboratories around the world.
The list of services is great. This is inspection and verification of quantity, weight and quality of the goods; product testing on various parameters; product, management systems and services certification in compliance with standards established by the states, standardization bodies or the SGS customers; in addition, services for verification of conformity with international and national law.
Agreement on monitoring of goods is the first and only document signed between the governments of Georgia and Russia after the August 2008 war. After Russia had recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Tbilisi severed diplomatic relations with Moscow. The only channel of communication is the Swiss Embassy and a section of Russia and Georgia under the embassy. Diplomatic relations were not restored until now.
However, Georgian authorities also had to compromise on the issue of Russia's membership in the WTO. Many political forces in the country accused the authorities of "unilateral concessions" to Moscow. The fact is that at the beginning of negotiations on the WTO Tbilisi demanded placement of Georgian customs at the border between Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which was unsuitable for both parties. Tbilisi's perseverance continued until the WTO leadership through its own channels made it clear that Russia could join the organization even without the consent of Georgia. Traditionally all the countries unanimously vote for inclusion of a certain country into the WTO, but if you follow the statute, Tbilisi's consent is not required.
The U.S. has also put pressure on the government of Georgia, since it is interested in Russia's admission to the WTO. As a result, a compromise was worked out, which implies a connection of an independent Swiss company to the process.
According to analysts, after Russia's accession to the WTO the Georgian products have got a good chance to return to Russia. If Russia prevents this, Georgia has a legal mean to achieve this goal through the WTO.
Some Georgian analysts went even further. Thus, an expert in political issues Tengiz Pkhaladze called monitoring of goods at the border "the indirect recognition of the territorial integrity of Georgia by Russia". "Georgia has no information about the goods crossing the border through the Roki Tunnel (South Ossetia) and the Psou River (Abkhazia). Now this problem is solved. In addition, Russia has indirectly recognized borders of Georgia", says Pkhaladze.
Economic expert Alexander Tvalchrelidze is more restrained in assessments. "I certainly welcome the agreement between Russia and Georgia. I believe that it helps to restore normal economic relations between our countries. The SGS is one of the leaders in this field, so the choice is right. Russia has certainly agreed on some concessions, but I would not have called the decision an indirect recognition of the territorial integrity of Georgia. Moscow has just recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while it was necessary to negotiate with Georgia, since the WTO membership imposes certain international obligations".
Prior to this agreement, the leadership of Abkhazia and South Ossetia claimed that the terms of Russia's accession to the WTO could harm their interests. It was noted that no international monitoring groups will be allowed on the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and this position is unchanged. However, later it became known that the representatives of the SGS would be located on the territory of the border check-point of Russia. Dissatisfaction is also connected to the fact that the border between Russia and South Ossetia and the border between Russia and Abkhazia are not mentioned in the Georgian-Russian agreement, only the geographical coordinates of the places where representatives of the Swiss company will be located.
Terms of the transaction with the Swiss company has not yet been disclosed. Naturally, the SGS will receive considerable profit from the agreement. Despite the settlement of the formal issues, the exact date when the monitoring on the Georgian-Russian border starts is unknown yet.