By Atom Markarian
Georgia’s decision this week to raise charges for the transit of oil products through its territory applies only to Azerbaijani cargos and will not affect Armenia, the commercial director of the Georgian railway said on Wednesday.
The official, Ramaz Giorgadze, told RFE/RL that the railway management decided to levy $6 from every metric ton of crude oil and $8 from other fuel transported to and from Azerbaijan through its rail network. The tariffs were previously set at $5 and $7 per ton respectively. “There is nothing in that decision that concerns Armenia,” he said.
Earlier news agency reports did not say that the tariff hike is only applicable to Azerbaijan. They quoted the new chairman of the Georgia’s state-run railway company, Levan Varshalomidze, as saying that the measure is aimed at boosting the company’s revenues and bringing the tariffs “closer to international standards.”
The Armenian government has long complained that the existing transit fees charged by Georgia are too high and impede Armenia’s trade with the rest of the world. It points to the fact that Tbilisi offers substantially higher fee discounts to Azerbaijan which ships the bulk of its oil to the world markets through the Georgian Black Sea ports. Georgian officials have cited the greater volume of Azerbaijani cargo turnover to justify the disparity.
Georgia’s new president, Mikhail Saakashvili, pledged to lower the Armenia tariffs shortly after he swept to power in a bloodless popular uprising last November. However, Saakashvili’s top government minister, Zurab Zhvania, made no such commitment when he visited Yerevan in late December. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian presented him with an Armenian government study purporting to show that lower charges would benefit both countries.
According to Giorgadze, the Georgian government is still considering Armenia’s request. “It is not yet possible to give a direct answer to this question because the issue is being looked into and the decision will be made afterwards,” he said.
More than 90 percent of Armenia’s external trade is carried out via Georgia.