YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan)–Armenia and Georgia have agreed to step up political and economic cooperation which will promote stability in the entire South Caucasus driven by unresolved ethnic conflicts.
Following talks in Yerevan on Wednesday–presidents Robert Kocharian and Eduard Shevardnadze announced the beginning of a "new stage" in the Armenian-Georgian relationship. The two leaders spoke to reporters after the signing of a joint declaration which they said lists its main principles. Kocharian said the document "elevates our relations to a higher level." According to Shevardnadze–agreement was also reached on beginning the work on a new Georgian-Armenian comprehensive treaty to "perfect" the existing one signed six years ago.
Shevardnadze arrived in Armenia on a two-day official visit. Officials say economic cooperation was a key focus of his talks. A large delegation accompanying Shevardnadze included a group of Georgian businessmen who met with their Armenian colleagues at the ministry of industry and trade. Managers of two Armenian chemical enterprises told RFE/RL they reached agreement on supplies of raw materials from Georgia. Several trade companies took interest in imports of Georgian sugar and tea.
Most of Armenia’s foreign trade is carried out through Georgia’s Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti. Armenia exports part of its electricity surplus to Georgia. However–bilateral trade makes up a small share of the two countries’ economic turnover. Only 4.5 percent of Armenian exports went to Georgia last year. Similarly–Georgian goods had a 3.5 percent share in net imports to Armenia.
The meeting of Armenian and Georgian businessmen was organized by the Ministry of Industry and Trade–the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Union of Manufacturers and Businessmen of Armenia–pursued the goal of facilitating the resumption of ties between Armenian and Georgian businessmen–specifying prospects of further economic cooperation between the two countries–reported the Noyan Tapan news agency.
Armenia’s Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Armen Petrossian said that managers of 5 Georgian and 18 Armenian enterprises working in the fields of mineral extraction and processing–chemistry–food production and cargo shipmen’s–had been invited to attend the meeting. Stressing the importance of restoring economic ties–the deputy minister said that there are already about 50 Armenian-Georgian joint ventures.
Paat Agauri–the manager of the "Araga" industrial enterprise–engaged in the production of sugar powder–said that Armenian-Georgian economic cooperation has good prospects for development.
The Armenian and Georgian businessmen reached an agreement on the establishment of a joint venture in the sphere of chemistry and firm shops in Tbilisi–import of cord from Georgia for the needs of the "Shinnik" works.
Shevardnadze and Kocharian said they also discussed regional issues and in particular the unrest in Russia’s North Caucasus. The interior ministers of Russia and the three South Caucasus states on Tuesday pledged joint efforts to combat international terrorism as Moscow intensified its air strikes against Chechnya. Shevardnadze again rejected Moscow’s claims that Georgia has been used as a transit route for supplies of weapons to radical Chechen warlords fighting Russian troops in Dagestan. He countered that the Chechen guerrillas are using weapons purchased from the Russia’s themselves.
The situation in Javakhetia–an Armenian-populated region in the south of Georgia–also figured in Wednesday’s talks. Severe economic conditions have often strained Tbilisi’s relations with local ethnic Armenia’s leading to periodical calls for the region’s greater autonomy. But Kocharian insisted that problems in Javakhetia are of social and economic character only. He indicated that Yerevan treats Javakhetia Armenia’s as any other Armenian community abroad and hopes it will serve as a "bridge" linking the two "brotherly" countries. Shevardnadze said the issue will die down with Georgia’s overall economic development.
The Georgian leader will meet with the speaker of the Armenian parliament–Karen Demirchian–on Thursday. The two men were the longtime heads of the Georgian and Armenian Communist parties during the Soviet period.