|Georgian leader courts Korean firms|
|April 01, 2012|
By Kim Young-jin
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili Thursday touted his country as a destination for Korean investment, saying it is following the Korean development model to overcome a “very complicated” geopolitical situation and become a hub for commerce in its region.
In a Korea Times interview, Saakashvili said despite its strategic location at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, Georgia has had to work “five times as hard” as other nations to develop due to tensions with neighboring Russia, which boiled over into war in 2008 over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.
The country has tripled its economy over the past eight years by prioritizing the technology and education sectors and investment-friendly policies, including “some of the world’s fastest procedures” in company and property registration as well as customs, he said.
“There are a lot of similarities between our countries,” he said on the third and final day of his visit for the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit. “Korea has been developing under tremendous pressure, being surrounded by big powers and being a divided country. It’s a very similar situation for us.”
The situation “forced us to be innovative and find new solutions… and really start being outward-looking. That kept us going even at the worst time of crisis and post-war hangover.”
Korea, which rose rapidly following the 1950-53 Korean War through an export driven policy as well as a focus on education and technology, is seen as a bridge between the advanced and developing worlds in spite of the ongoing security challenge posed by nuclear-armed North Korea.
While Georgia remains confronted by the situation over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another occupied region, Saakashvili said the challenge forces his country to become more innovative, looking towards hydropower as an independent energy source and creating a transparent and business-friendly environment.
Those efforts have paid off. In the World Bank's 2012 report on the "Ease of Doing Business," Georgia ranks first among Eastern European and Central Asian nations and 16th overall. In a survey by Transparency International's Global Corruption Barometer 2010 the country topped the list.
It has also implemented free trade agreements with neighboring countries and is negotiating pacts with the United States and the European Union.
In a summit at Cheong Wa Dae earlier Thursday, he agreed with President Lee Myung-bak to expand ways to deepen cooperation in trade, business and development. Saakashvili added that Korean companies are planning to invest in hospital construction projects, hydropower plants and other major projects. Seoul will soon open an embassy in Georgia.
“For Koreans it is the right way to be present in the region. It is a good thing for Korean companies to be there in terms of outsourcing, offshore presence and logistically to operate to European, Central Asian and Middle Eastern markets.”
While the tension over the occupied regions persists, Saakashvili said his country would stick to a “strategic vision of what should be done no matter what” saying it would continue to draw inspiration from Korea’s development experience.
Before wrapping up what was the first trip to Korea by a Georgian president since the sides established diplomatic ties 20 years ago, Saakashvili noted how similar the two peoples are.
“Georgia is very similar to Korea in many ways. Georgians are very hospitable and warm people. I think the biggest asset of Korea is the people. They have amazing character. This is one of the best places I have been to in terms of human atmosphere,” he said.
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