By Shakeh Avoyan
Georgia has invited Armenian businessmen to participate in the planned privatization of its Black Sea ports that serve as Armenia’s main commercial conduits to the outside world, it was claimed on Thursday.
Arsen Ghazarian, the chairman of Armenia’s biggest business association, said the call for proposals was received by the Armenian government recently and will be on the agenda of President Robert Kocharian’s official visit to Tbilisi that begins on Friday.
Economic issues are expected to dominate his talks with President Mikhail Saakashvili and other top Georgian officials. Kocharian and Saakashvili will open an Armenian-Georgian business forum on Sunday. In addition, more than two dozen Armenian firms will exhibit their production in Tbilisi.
Ghazarian is one of more than 30 entrepreneurs that will accompany Kocharian on the three-day trip. He said international tenders for the Georgian ports of Poti and Batumi will take place within the next six months and voiced his strong support for Armenian participation in them.
“I we manage to make Armenian investments there it would be very good because psychologically we will feel more confident [in external trade],” he told RFE/RL. “I am sure that the Georgians are making a honest and sincere bid for investments. We will hold discussions with them at the business forum.”
“I’m sure that Russian industrial groups as well as Western and Turkish companies will also show interest. So the competition will be tough,” he added.
Ghazarian admitted that Armenian-based investors would stand little chance of winning that competition without teaming up with their wealthier counterparts from the Armenian Diaspora in Russia and the West.
The Poti and Batumi facilities handle the bulk of cargo shipped to and from Armenia. Their significance has grown further since the closure of the land border between Georgia and Russia almost two months ago.
Ghazarian, who owns one of Armenia’s biggest freight companies, said the privatization will benefit Armenian traders regardless of its outcome, arguing that the ports need substantial private investments to increase their cargo-processing capacity.