Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian met with Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili on Tuesday at the end of a two-day official visit to Tbilisi.
The two men spoke of a “positive dynamic” in Georgian-Armenian relations. Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili likewise praised bilateral commercial ties when met with his Armenian counterpart on Monday.
“Our relations are centuries old and they have always been as warm and good-neighborly as they are today,” Kvirikashvili said at the start of his talks with Sarkisian. “We welcome the growing dynamics of our bilateral relations.”
The press offices of both leaders said they discussed ways of deepening ties between the two neighboring states in “various fields” but reported no further details. According to a statement by Sarkisian’s office, they also noted “considerable progress” in bilateral commerce made this year.
“Even though we have signed the Association Agreement with the European Union and we benefit from free trade with Europe while Armenia is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), this circumstance has not weakened economic cooperation between our countries,” Margvelashvili said after his separate meeting with Sarkisian. “On the contrary, the [commercial] turnover between our countries as well as the tourism indicator has significantly increased this year.”
Official Armenian statistics show that Georgian-Armenian trade actually shrunk by 4 percent to just under $200 million in the first ten months of this year. The two nations continue to have an essentially free trade regime despite Armenia’s membership in the Russian-led trade bloc.
Speaking at a joint news briefing with the Georgian president, Sarkisian urged Georgian entrepreneurs to set up shop in Armenia and thus gain tariff-free access to markets in Russia and other EEU member states. He also called on them to invest in a free economic zone that has been created on Armenia’s border with Iran.
It was not clear whether the two sides discussed the potential creation of new transport corridors between Georgia and Russia that would be used for cargo shipments to and from Armenia. Most of Russian-Armenian trade is currently carried out through the sole Russian-Georgian border crossing at Upper Lars. Traffic along that mountainous road is frequently blocked by blizzards in winter months.
Kvirikashvili said last week that Tbilisi is ready to allow Armenia as well as Turkey and other countries to use, in case of a “force majeure situation,” another road that passes through Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia region. He pointed to the December 19 signing of an agreement between the Georgian government and a Swiss company that would process such cargo traffic.
Georgia and Russia have held negotiations on this politically sensitive arrangement for the last few years. Armenian Transport Minister Vahan Martirosian expressed hope earlier this year that the talks will yield an agreement soon.
Sarkisian flew to Tbilisi two weeks after Kvirikashvili cancelled a planned official visit to Yerevan at the last minute. The two governments said the visit will take place after the Georgian parliament approves a cabinet reshuffle initiated by the premier.