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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
11/11/2019
The Georgian Milk Mark dairies at the Cheese and Hot Drinks Festival

Tsintskaro + and Tsipora-Samtskhe dairy products with the Georgian Milk Mark were introduced at the Cheese and Hot Drinks Festival organized by Anna Mikadze – Chikvaidze, the Head of Cheese Producers Guild and held at the Mtatsminda Park on 10th of November, 2019. The visitors tasted cheese and received information about the Georgian Milk mark.  

‘What makes this festival important is to introduce cheese with the Georgian Milk mark, which says to consumers that cheese is made from natural raw milk’ -  stated Anna Mikadze - Chikvaidze.

Currently seven dairy enterprises are using the Georgian Milk mark: Milkeni; Tsintskaro +; Tsipora –Samtskhe; Cheese Hut; Tsezari; Tsivis Kveli; Shuamta.

Products with the mark are available in Madagoni, Spar, Ori Nabiji, Nikora, Zgapari, Fresco, Carrefour, and Goodwill supermarket chains.

Information per enterprise is uploaded on www.georgianmilk.ge. This allows consumers to look up the products they are buying using a unique register number printed on the label.

07/11/2019
Unofficial AMR route in Shiraki Pastures Officially Registered

A 22 km  route in Shiraki pastures, Dedoplistskaro municipality has received the status of becoming part of the official Animal Movement Route (AMR) last week. The unofficial route, which had been used for livestock seasonal migration for decades, had not been officially registered as the AMR before. As a result of a joint effort between the  ALCP  the Shepherds Association, The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture (MEPA), the National Agency of State Property and the Ministry of Economy & Sustainable Development, the route  and297 ha land, is now officially registered as the AMR by National Agency of Public Registry of Georgia.

The section of the route is now protected from saleas according current regulations, AMR land  is not allowed to be sold or rented. A water point located in this area will be restored soon as well, within the planned Water Point’s project of the ALCP and MEPA.


29/10/2019
Swiss Delegation Visit to the ALCP

On October 29th, theSwiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) project the Mercy Corps Georgia implemented Alliances Caucasus Programme (ALCP) hosted the President of the Swiss National Council Marina Carobbio Guscetti, First Vice President of the National Council Isabelle Moret, Second Vice President of the National Council Heinz Brand, Secretary General of the Federal Assembly at Swiss Parliament Philippe Schwab, Ambassador of Switzerland to Georgia Patric Franzen, Deputy Head of Embassy of Switzerland in Georgia Alvaro Borghi, and the Regional Director of the Swiss Cooperation Office in Georgia, Danielle Mewly Monteleone.  The Mayor of Marneuli, MP’s of Marneuli and Rustavi and the Deputy Governor of Kvemo Kartli region were also present.  The visit was  part of an official visit of Swiss officials to Georgia, to open the new Swiss Embassy in Tbilisi, celebrate sixty years of UNICEF Switzerland, highlight the importance of the Swiss role in mediation and representation between Georgia and Russia and visit some of the outcomes of the significant investment through SDC in economic development in Georgia.

The delegation was introduced to the ALCP’s work in Georgia and the programme’s regional outreach in Armenia and Azerbaijan, emphasizing equitable impact  and women’s economic empowerment in the dairy and honey sector’s and the regional programme of vocational agri-journalism trainings in fourteen universities in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The delegation visited the Women’s Room in Marneuli municipality highlighting gender sensitive budgeting training delivered through UN Women and the projects for and started by women through funding facilitated by the Women's Room.  They then visited Milkeni Cheese Factory in Rustavi where the importance of sustainable community based enterprises supplied by local farmers was emphasized, as was the growing influence of the new dairy quality assurance mark, the Georgian Milk Mark www.Georgianmilk.ge/Milkeni.

To date, the ALCP has facilitated thirty-two cheese factories, creating a regular market for 23,000 farmers, seventy percent of whom are women; the Women’s Room Municipal Service is now operating in twenty-eight municipalities of Georgia with more than 17,000 regular rural women users, facilitating to date $2.4 million USD in government, civil and private funding for women’s initiatives and projects.

11/10/2019
Honey Testing as a Constraint for the Georgian Honey Export

Honey testing requirements for export and laboratory testing capability and reality in Georgia were the main topics of the ALCP Second Honey Sector Advisory Committee meeting on 9th of October, 2019. The meeting gathered up to forty key stakeholders of the sector, including the Georgian Beekeepers Union (GBU), the Minister and Deputy Minister of Environment Protection and Agriculture of Georgia, Head of the National Food Agency, the Laboratory of Ministry of Agriculture (LMA), private laboratories, a honey exporter company Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking KTW.

A laboratory service subsidy scheme was presented at the meeting, that serves for supporting honey export development through creating accessible and affordable laboratory  testing services for the Georgian beekeepers and honey exporters, which still remains as one of the key constrains for exporting Georgian honey abroad.

“For me, the honey sector is one of the most complex sectors in agriculture and I think the format of this meeting helps us with finding the best solutions to keep the sector going. I am pleased that today’s topic concerns honey laboratory testing, as we are determined to make honey as an export product. We have already made some important steps, like, participation in Apimondia 2019 and other important events for honey promotion. I think we can elaborate and agree on a future working model” – Levan Davitashvili, the Minister of Environment Protection and Agriculture of Georgia.

“Access to affordable laboratory services will not only decrease prime cost of honey, but will ensure quality honey to be sold at local and international markets” – stated Mikheil Tetruashvili, the GBU board member.

The Minster of Environment Protection and Agriculture of Georgia appointed a focal point in the Ministry to improve communication with beekeepers. The meeting participants agreed to continue work on the topic together with the MEPA and NFA.

The meeting was facilitated by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) project the Mercy Corps Georgia implemented the Alliances Caucasus Programme (ALCP). 

Photo Source: The Ministry of Environment Protection and Agriculture of Georgia

12/09/2019
Georgian Honey on the World Stage

The 46thApimondia Congress 2019, the most significant event in beekeeping worldwide, took place from 9th of September to 12th of September, in Montreal, Canada. For the second time in Apimondia’s hundred years of history, Georgia was at this world forum, represented by the Ministry of Environment Protection and Agriculture (MEPA)the Georgian Beekeepers’ Union (GBU) and Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking company, exhibiting the different types of honey of its members and promoting Georgian honey and beekeeping.

Apimondia promotes scientific, ecological, social and economic apicultural development in all countries and the cooperation of beekeepers' associations, scientific bodies and individuals involved in apiculture all over the world. This event is a unique opportunity for Georgia to promote itself as a honey producer and claim a place next to world leading honey producers. The recent placing of Georgia on the list of third countries for honey only further cements the credibility of Georgia as a viable producer country.

Georgia has been extensively promoted internationally as the birthplace of winemaking. Apimondia provides the  opportunity to put energy into a new promotion of Georgia as the homeland of the oldest honey ever discovered, preserver of ancient beekeeping traditions as shown in the Jara movie and producer of a wide variety of artisanal natural honey and bee products fueled by the un-paralleled flora of Georgia’s uniquely bio diverse and unspoiled landscape.

The Georgian Beekeepers Union (2018) as an umbrella association for advocating and representing beekeepers’ interests developed Honey promotion video, websites/catalogues of Jara Honey and Georgian Honey for further promotion of Georgian honey.

The first participation at the congress was facilitated by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) project the Mercy Corps Georgia implemented Alliances Caucasus Programme (ALCP) in cooperation with the Ajarian Beekeeping Business Association (ABBA) operating under the Ajara Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) in Istanbul, Turkey in 2017.

Follow the links on the Apimondia Congress 2019: Interpressnews, Palitranews.ge

25/07/2019
Expanding the Women’s Rooms Success to Armenia

The Women’s Room in Alaverdi municipality, Armenia was officially opened on the 25th of July by the Governor of Lori Province, Andrey Ghukasyan, the Head of Alaverdi Municipality, Sasun Khemuchyan and the ALCP Team Leader, Helen Bradbury. The Head of the Department of Family, Women and Youth of the Ministry of Labour and Social Issues, the Head of the Municipality, the representative of Association of Lawyers, local businesswomen and other guests attended the opening ceremony. The Mayor of Keda Municipality of Ajara region and the Manager of Women’s Room in Keda were invited, representing one of the most successful Women’s Rooms in Georgia. Keda and Alaverdi Municipalities forged links when the representatives of Alaverdi Municipality were invited to the Women's Business Forum held in Batumi, Ajara in March, 2018. 

“This service is very important for women and their families to improve their business skills. I would like to thank all of the initiators and supporters of the project and I am ready to discuss the opening of this service in other municipalities as well” - Andrey Ghukasyan, Governor of Lori Province.

“The Idea of the opening of the Women’s Room in Alaverdi came when we visited the Women’s Room in Keda, Ajara region three years ago. The Alliances Caucasus Programme expressed their readiness to share their experience with us how to establish and operate the WR. This service will help women with accessing resources and training to get finances for their businesses. When we help women, we strengthen their families’ Sasun Khemuchyan, the Head of Alaverdi Municipality.

Photo Source: Facebook page of Women's Room in Armenia

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.
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GENDER EQUALITY, DIVERSITY AND SOCIAL INCLUSION STRATEGY (2020-2023)