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Harmonize, but do not Harm!

From the ISET Economist news (http://www.iset.ge/news/?p=4633)

By Eric Livny

The “do no harm” (primum non nocere) principle is well known to students of medical schools. It is one of the most fundamental maxims in medicine, as formulated, for example, in the Epidemics book of the Hippocratic Collection:

“The physician must … have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm“.

Doctors are taught that medical interventions are not risk-free. Thus, when facing a “problem” one should consider whether to use a particular procedure (e.g. surgery or chemical treatment) or do NOTHING.

Not surprisingly, this very principle has applications in many fields other than healthcare. And it is high time for this principle to be studied and applied in Georgian policymaking.

THE HARM OF OVERZEALOUS “HARMONIZATION”

Ever since signing the EU Association agreement in June 2014, Georgia has embarked on a spree of initiatives seeking to “harmonize” Georgia’s legislative and regulatory environment with EU’s acquis communautaire. The aim, so it appears, is to instantly transform Georgia into a European nation.

It all started on September 1, 2014, with the introduction of new VISA AND RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS, modeled – so the Georgian public was told – after the best EU regulations, and intended to meet EU requirements as part of the visa liberalization process.

Within just a few months, several other pieces of legislation have been drafted and submitted to parliament (a few more may be in the pipeline without any knowledge on the part of relevant businesses and civil society stakeholders), allegedly as part of the harmonization effort.

  • A new law onLABOR MIGRATION, submitted to the Georgian Parliament in early 2015, sought to prevent trafficking (a goal consistent with Georgia’s obligations under the visa liberalization plan), but also (Article 16) to restrict the ability of Georgian companies to hire badly needed international experts. Hard to imagine, but true! Thanks to a concerted communication effort by the Georgian business community, and goodwill on the part of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, Article 16 was swiftly removed from the draft law.
  • Recent amendments to the Georgian law onBROADCASTING (Article 64 § 2) restrict sponsorships and limit advertising to 12 minutes per hour. The idea to reduce advertising time to somewhat more civilized levels is consistent with EU rules, yet Georgia seems to be in a particular hurry to tick off this harmonization box. Whereas the Association Agreement talks about gradual “approximation” over a period of 3-5 years, Georgian parliamentarians opted to dramatically accelerate the process by making these truly life-saving amendments effective almost immediately (as of April 1, 2015). Instead of creating harmony, this kind of fast-track overzealous approximation does not allow private broadcasters any time for adjustment, jeopardizing their ability to generate income, produce high quality content, and maintain independence. Unfortunately, suggestions by Rustavi 2 and other TV channels to stagger reductions in advertising time over several years have so far fallen on deaf ears.
  • Yet another example of rushed legislation that appears to ignore the interests of businesses concerns the recent decision to increase EXCISE TAXES ON ALCOHOL AND TOBACCO as of January 1, 2015. The Government’s official aim was to increase budget revenues while harmonizing Georgia’s regulatory environment with that of the EU. Yet, the manner in which the whole process was rushed raises many questions. Georgian companies were not allowed any time to adjust their investment and production decisions, leaving them with excess capacity and losses. Furthermore, the level of excise taxes on alcohol was set at a level exceeding that of many European nations. This was decided without examining relevant demand elasticities, that is, the extent to which higher taxes will affect sales and budget revenues. In a country with rich traditions in home production of high quality alcoholic drinks (that are not subject to excise taxes), demand for alcohol is likely to be quite a bit more elastic than in most European nations. After all, Georgian consumers can switch to homemade wine or chacha, spelling doom for Georgian government’s plans to raise an extra 100mln GEL in excise tax revenue.

A COMMON PATTERN?

Taken alone, none of these legislative initiatives are particularly damaging for the Georgian economy. Georgian companies would have quickly acquired the ability to handle the extra layer of bureaucracy when bringing foreign experts and workers. Broadcasters will raise per minute prices for advertising and sponsorships, and advertising companies will learn to deliver their marketing messages in fewer seconds. Forced to pay higher excise taxes, Georgians will drink less beer and more wine. Breweries will adjust production volumes or export to Azerbaijan. The Association Agreement will be implemented ahead of schedule. At least on paper.

The problem with all these initiatives is that they represent a pattern of policymaking that is very different from the European ideal which Georgia is supposed to aspire to. And, taken together, they defeat the very purpose they are supposed to serve: bring Georgia into the European family of nations.

First and foremost, the manner in which these new regulation are enacted undermines Georgia’s reputation as a great place to do business. A key consideration for new investors is stability and predictability of the business environment. Countries may certainly change their internal regulations from time to time, but this should be done in coordination with the business community, while listening to companies and allowing them sufficient time to adjust.

Second, Georgian policymakers should learn to do much better homework before coming up with new laws and regulations. To do no harm, doctors may prescribe additional X-ray or blood tests. Policymakers can employ standard tools of applied economics analysis to simulate the impact of proposed regulations on tax revenues, GDP, income and investment levels, as well as evaluate associated corruption risks. While common in Europe, none of these tools are used in Georgia. Yet another good possibility is to move in small steps, conducting policy experiments and assessing their impact.

Third, unless dealing with urgent or complicated technical matters (such as Lari devaluation), Georgia’s policymaking process could benefit from greater participation by interested parties. Practically all EU approximation measures could and should be subjected to a lengthy and inclusive process of public consultations that would increase their chances to be politically accepted. In fact, such consultations are explicitly encouraged by the EU Association Agreement.

Last but not least, the hasty attempts to tick off boxes on EU harmonization may undermine the very process of Europeanization the Georgian government is trying to promote. The use of the Association Agreement as a smokescreen for passing dubious laws not only harms Georgia’s immediate economic interests, but also plays into the hands of those political forces that aspire to bring Georgia back into the Russian fold.

*  *  *

The other day, I heard Giorgi Kadagidze, the governor of the National Bank of Georgia, speaking about the need for Georgia to grow at a faster pace, and how faster growth is predicated on the government’s ability to implement painful and costly adjustments. The kind of “second-generation” structural reforms envisaged by governor Kadagidze would take time to implement. Until then, however, there are many things the Georgian government could STOP DOING. In this way the government would save taxpayers money, save itself the embarrassment of backtracking and apologizing, and save Georgian businesses the nervous energy and resources that could be put to more productive uses.

It is time for the Georgian policymakers to learn the Hippocratic principle: do no harm!

OTHER NEWS
10/06/2020
Georgian Milk Mark on National TV

From the beginning of June, the two most popular national TV stations Imedi TV and TV Pirveli have been broadcasting the Georgian Milk Mark (GMM) animation video five times a day during prime time for free as a part of social advertising. Those televisions have national coverage reaching a high number of consumers.

There are now ten GMM dairy enterprises’ products available in fifteen supermarket chains across Georgia. Detailed information to be found on www.georgianmilk.ge.

22/05/2020
New Beekeeper Info Links Launched

On the May 20th, 4,400 beekeepers registered in the new GBU database received an SMS notification from the Georgian Beekeepers Union (GBU) on how to treat Varroa, the most common bee disease in Georgia.

The GBU will continue informing its members through phone Facebook. And their new official webpage is now online: www.geobeekeepers.ge.

Created in 2018, the GBU is an umbrella association uniting ten beekeeping associations and three commercial beekeeping companies.

 

21/05/2020
Beekeepers Union Keeps Bees Moving

The Georgian Beekeepers Union (GBU) successfully advocated for permits to be issued for beekeepers allowing them to continue work during the curfew.

The Government of Georgia declared the nationwide curfew on March 30th, 2020 to restrict the spread of the COVID-19 virus, prohibiting any movement from 9:00 PM to 06:00 AM. This posed a serious problem for beekeepers who rely on transhumance predominantly at night.

In Georgia, bee transhumance allows for beekeepers to place hives at different altitudes to capture the flowering of different plants. Starting from late Spring, Georgian beekeepers start to move apiaries to get different types of honey including Acacia,Chestnut, Alpine, Linden. The transhumance of bees significantly increases their honey productivity.

On April 4th, the GBU sent an official letter to the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia (MEPA) asking for the issuing of permission/passes for beekeepers including the guidance it developed for beekeepers during the Covid-19 outbreak.

We asked the Minister to mediate with the appropriate agencies to issue special permits, so that beekeepers may access their apiaries and work there, transport beekeeping apiaries for transhumance on pre-determined routes within the curfew conditions.’ – Avksenti Papava, the Director of the GBU.

Up to eight hundred beekeepers have already used permits, who are now able to visit apiaries and carry out vital seasonal treatment and maintenance.  Bees are transported at night where possible, because they do not leave a hive during night, which the permit makes possible.

‘I have my apiaries located in the different regions for getting various types of honey. I was very happy to hear about special permit for beekeepers, as it is very active season in beekeeping. I am able to freely move to the locations and do not worry about time limitations’ – Kakhaber Zirakasvili, a beekeeper.

Guidance and contact information on getting permits and the Covid-19 recommendations have been shared by the GBU on its facebook page.

The Georgian Beekeepers Union (www.geobeekeepers.ge) is an umbrella association uniting ten beekeeping associations and three commercial beekeeping companies with more than four thousand Georgian beekeepers. It was established to represent their interests and to promote the health and development of the honey sector in Georgia with the facilitation of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) project the Mercy Corps Georgia implemented Alliances Caucasus Programme (ALCP).


19/05/2020
Kindness is Contagious

In the midst of anxiety under the COVID-19, some people rise to the occasion when faced with adversity and it is uplifting to hear stories about them. As for many others it has been difficult times for the client businesses of the programme, but they have continued to help people most affected by the current crisis over the past two weeks.  

Ten dairy enterprises with the Georgian Milk Mark www.georgianmilk.ge provided cheese for the medical staff of hospitals in the frontline of battling the virus as well as people under quarantine and locals in the lockdown areas in the different regions of Georgia, who have limited access to the markets.

‘It is now important to show support to each other. I was very happy to see reactions from people, who were very surprised and thankful. I think those GMM enterprises set very good example for others.’ – A GMM cheese distributor.  

The Georgian Beekeepers Union (www.geobeekeepers.ge), uniting ten beekeeping associations and three commercial beekeeping companies supplied 1.2 tonnes of honey for further distribution among medical staff and vulnerable groups.

The Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking group’s (programme facilitated honey aggregator and exporter company) forty-one rooms hotel-complex is being used as a quarantine zone, the company also supplied food to locals over seventy in two regions of Georgia within a social project ‘Care for Each Other’ initiated after the virus outbreak and is now offering online sales and a free home delivery of its products (wine, compotes, jams, including, honey); the company’s webpage Old Kakheti went online to improve online sales.

These are a few examples and continuation of the kindness acts that started a month ago.

07/05/2020
Liquid Gold Reaches the Market

Referred to as Liquid Gold, for its color and perceived health benefits, Erbo the Georgian word for melted butter is a well-kept secret in Georgia. Traditionally made at home Erbo is much used in local traditional cuisines.  Butter is an important fat in Georgia, very common in Azeri cuisine and in mountainous regions where both the harsh winter climates and distance from markets increased the importance of butter which can be stored, in communities dependent on dairy farming.

Now thanks to Milkeni Ltd who have started to produce and sell Erbo as part of their products made under the Georgian Milk Mark, quality assured Erbo is now available commercially for the first time in Georgia in Madagoni and Libre supermarkets chains. Interest and demand is growing rapidly.

Of all regions, perhaps Ajara is most famous for its use of Erbo. Most traditional Ajarian dishes contain Erbo.  Borano is a dish of melted butter containing traditional Chechili cheese, a dish which been awarded the status of Intangible Cultural Heritage and Khavitsi a sauce made with flour and Erbo.

So what is special about Erbo?  People believe that it is a healthy fat, processed differently and beneficially in the body and is well absorbed in the human body; it does not contain lactose and casein, so it is recommended for those with lactose intolerance. Mountain people believe Erbo boosts metabolism and energy, improving brain function, memory and their immune system.

08/04/2020
New Jara Apiary Successfully Overwintered

In summer 2019, ten new Jara hives were placed in the Goderdzi Alpine Garden (GAG), Jara Beekeeping area, an area which aims to publicize Jara beekeeping and teach people interested in taking it up. With the help of the Jara Beekeepers Association (JBA) they were moved for wintering to Paksadzeebi Village in Khulo last autumn. Last week, all the hives were checked and fortunately, all the bee colonies are alive and working productively.  

This Jara apiary is currently undergoing the Bio certification process and is due to obtain certification in July this year. It will be moved back to the GAG (Goderdzi Pass, 2000m above sea level) in May and be the focal point of Jara beekeeping workshops for school students and garden visitors.

The Goderdzi Alpine Garden is a tourist and environmental hub in the rural part of Ajara, Western Georgia. It involves and develops a sense of ownership for rural inhabitants in the field of biodiversity and environment, showcases the beauty and ecological assets of rural Ajara and generates added value from rural tourism for locals.    


LATEST NEWS
The Georgian Beekeepers Union Celebrates Three Years Anniversary
20/12/2021
On December 20th, the Georgian Beekeepers Union (GBU) hosted an event to celebrate its third anniversary inviting key honey sector stakeholders to Hualing Tbilisi Sea Plaza.  Since 2018, the honey sector has seen huge gains under the auspices of the GBU, which is leading efforts to remove pervasive constraints to growth such as the widespread use of prohibited antibiotics and performing the role of non-governmental national representative of the honey sector. The GBU’s three years of extensive work resulted in increased honey quality, more effective governmental advocacy, better vocational education in beekeeping, including, Jara teaching, available information and trainings for beekeepers, promotion and improved image of Georgian honey at the Apimondia Congress and London Honey Awards, all that paving way for an increase of honey export.    ‘There are some major developments in improving honey testing capacity, increasing awareness of Georgian honey, and opening of new export markets. The comprehensive laboratory analysis, before carried abroad, is now available in Georgia, which resulted in decreasing transaction costs.’ – Giorgi Khanishvili, the First Deputy Minister of the Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia (MEPA).    ‘We were able to achieve significant improvements during these three years. We are continuing cooperation with the government and other honey stakeholders to ensure production of safe and quality honey.’ – Aleko Papava, the Executive Director of the GBU.  Photo source: The MEPA
Jara Enters the Qatar Market
19/12/2021
Nena Jara honey, along with other types of Georgian honey, found its place on the Georgian honey corner opened at the SPAR supermarket branch in Tawar Mall, the largest shopping mall in Doha, Qatar. Georgian honey corner will be opened in every branch of the SPAR chain. The process is backed by the Embassy of Georgia to the State of Qatar. The ALCP facilitated the export of Jara honey. Local influential media AI Raya dedicated a comprehensive article to Georgian honey with a special highlight on Georgian beekeeping characteristics and traditional Jara.   The Qatar market seems promising. The Embassy’s previous facilitation for approval of a VET certificate, an essential requirement for honey export, has contributed to a 255% increase of Georgian honey export to Qatar in 2021 compared to 2020. The same figure saw a 350% boost in 2020.  Photo source: The Embassy of Georgia to the State of Qatar
Sharing of Agricultural Education Experience with Azerbaijanis Colleagues
12/11/2021
The Journalism Resource Centre (JRC), in partnership with the Society of Women for Rational Development in Azerbaijan (WARD), hosted a study visit of media and educational institution representatives of Azerbaijan. Agri-journalism students and lecturers at Caucasus International University shared agricultural journalism teaching practices. In Kakheti, they visited the farm of Beka Gonashvili, Head of the Georgian Shepherds Association, farmer, and entrepreneur.  They also visited Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking to see their Jara honey and wine production and the dairy Leanka in Dedeplitskaro.  The importance of education and information for farmers and producers and their cooperation with agricultural media was emphasized. Beka Gonashvili emphasized the importance of providing quality information to farmers and producers. He is both a blogger and a farmer, so he is regularly publishing useful agriculture-related posts. The female owner of Leanka dairy talked about how the enterprise is ensuring the quality and how media is playing a significant role in this. At Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking Company particpants saw wine and Jara honey production and their export and how the Georgian Beekeepers Union is advocating the interests of honey sector representatives and supporting the awareness raising of beekeepers, such as through the national information campaign - Do’s and Don’ts of Antibiotic Use. Participants also watched a report about Jara Honey by Al Jazeera and Jara the Movie. ‘We will all together will work well for expansion the teaching of agricultural Journalism in Azerbaijan’ – Natia Kuprashvili, the Head of the JRC. The Society Women for Rational Development (WARD) in partnership with the JRC is going to prepare a course of agricultural communication based on the study visit and share it with educational institutions in Azerbaijan. Please see the related links: a textbook of Constructive Agricultural Journalism and video lessons added to this textbook.
LATEST PUBLICATIONS
MONITORING, EVALUATION, AND LEARNING POLICY
A Gendered National Honey Sector Survey in Georgia
GENDER EQUALITY, DIVERSITY AND SOCIAL INCLUSION STRATEGY (2020-2023)