Molly Corso in Tbilisi -
The standing of the EU has dropped to such a degree that Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri felt moved to state that his country would say "no thank you" to membership if Brussels invited the country in today.
Gilauri's comments come as Tbilisi and Brussels prepare to negotiate Georgia's Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area [DCFTA] agreement. While Georgia already has special trade preferences with the EU, the DCFTA agreement would mimic a free trade regime and help Tbilisi increase commerce with its largest trade partner. The DCFTA negotiations are the final stage after a long, 18-month process that has pitted EU-standard regulations against Georgia's libertarian-minded government.
Gilauri, speaking at The Economist's Tbilisi Summit in the Georgian capital on November 17, noted that the Caucasus country has "some additional competitive edges" right now that make life outside the EU more attractive.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has embraced a libertarian mantra of small government, initiating waves of reforms that eradicated scores of regulations, commissions and licenses to limit bureaucratic oversight over business in a bid to promote investment and economic growth. Over the past several months, rifts between Brussels and Tbilisi over EU demands for additional government oversight in regulating food and other potential exports have provided fodder for domestic politics.
During a question and answer session, the prime minister said the country would turn down an offer to integrate to the EU if one were extended today. "Let's be realistic... Right now, Europe is not in the position to have additional members. They are saying that," Gilauri said. "We think in the current situation, Georgia does have some additional competitive edge which can be used. This can be China and India that want to trade to Europe and see Georgia as a platform... We are in the middle of the Asia-Europe trade, Asia-Europe investment, which can be used by Georgia in a very good way. We don't have to be a member of the European Union to realise that."
He was quick to add, however, that other agreements with Brussels are a priority, including finalizing the DCFTA and a future visa regime. "Of course there is an objective in the long term for Georgia to be a member of one big family."
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