Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Moscow of “one-sided interpretation” of the 2011 Swiss-brokered Georgia-Russia agreement on monitoring of trade between the two countries.
Georgia agreed to give its go-ahead to Russia’s WTO membership only after Tbilisi and Moscow signed a Swiss-mediated agreement on November 9, 2011, envisaging putting in place sophisticated systems for tracking and auditing of “all trade in goods that enters or exits predefined corridors” – two of those corridors run through breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Speaking at a joint news conference with breakaway Abkhazia’s foreign minister in Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said on March 11 that enforcement of this agreement will “not infringe the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as of new independent countries” as the deal does “not cover these territories.”
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said on March 12 that Lavrov’s take on this agreement represents “one-sided interpretation and contravenes the essence” of the treaty.
“The agreement was concluded between Georgia and the Russian Federation to eradicate illegal trade, including for the purpose of registering cargo turnover and serves to the compliance with WTO rules of transparency,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.
“It should be stressed that contrary to Lavrov’s statement, the agreement serves the very purpose of securing Georgia’s territorial integrity and its main essence is about eradicating illegal movement of cargo, including on the occupied territories in predefined corridors,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.
The agreement envisages, among other issues, hiring of “neutral private company” – SGS has been selected – to carry out monitoring of cargo movement through three “trade corridors” two of which run in the breakaway regions and the third one on the Zemo Larsi-Kazbegi border crossing point on the undisputed section of Georgia-Russia border. Georgian negotiators at the time argued that this provision, setting unified “trade regime” on all three sections, located both in breakaway regions and in undisputed part of Georgia, was a significant achievement for Tbilisi. Monitoring should be carried out, among other means, also through presence of company representatives at entry/exit points of these corridors, meaning that they will be present outside of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
According to the agreement “all trade in goods that enters or exits predefined corridors shall be submitted” to the customs administration and monitoring mechanism.
This mechanism consists of two main components – Electronic Data Exchange System (EDES) and International Monitoring System (IMS).
EDES will have to serve as an electronic exchange platform through which Russian and Georgian customs services will have to share with private company information on “all customs and trade transactions”. This information in addition will also be sent on monthly basis by Georgia and Russia to the WTO’s Integrated Data Base.
IMS involves carrying out monitoring through “electronic seals on all cargo entering trade corridors”, as well as GPS/GPRS monitoring systems for tracking the movement of cargo after its entry into the trade corridors.