Samantha Shields in Tbilisi -
Georgia signed a simplified border management agreement with Turkey on October 8 aimed at increasing its attractiveness as a transit corridor for goods moving between China and Europe and increasing flows of tourists.
The new arrangement means there will be only one set of customs checks and one set of bilingual documents required at border crossings between the two countries. Until now, two sets of checks and two sets of documents have been required, making the process lengthy and laborious. "Everything is slashed by half, there are no more double checks. We estimate it will cut the time spent at checkpoints by 40%. That means that in a 24-hour period at a customs checkpoint there will be an extra six or seven hours of slots," said Kakha Baindurashvili, Georgia's finance minister, who signed the document in Istanbul with Turkish state minister Hayati Yazici.
He added that the agreement shows real confidence and trust between the two countries, and mimics the system that is in operation on the border between France and Switzerland. "The idea was to strengthen the transport corridor and to try to eliminate whatever barriers were still between us," he said.
Turkey is Georgia's biggest trade partner. It imported goods worth $151m from Georgia and exported goods worth $527m to Georgia during the period from January to August this year, according to the latest figures from Georgia's national statistics office.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan met in May in Saakshvili's showcase investment city of Batumi, where Saakashvili said relations between the two countries had reached "exemplary" levels.
Two checkpoints, one at Sarpi, some 20 kilometres from Batumi, and another at Vale are already operational. A third at Kartsakhi will open in 2011, Baindurashvili said.
The new regulations will apply to any traffic crossing the border, not just trucks carrying goods. The government hopes the simplified system will move it close to its goal of developing the tourism sector by increasing the number of visitors willing to enter Georgia during the summer season because they won't have to spend as much time queuing as they would have in the past. "It will boost tourism by making it faster and easier to cross the border, and all types of tourists are welcome, from those in cars to backpackers," Baindurashvili said.
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