Belt and Road Initiative to lift China-Georgian partnership

The Belt and Road Initiative proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping will open up a new era in bilateral relations, Georgian Vice Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said.

"I think Georgia can be an excellent partner for China," Kvirikashvili,  who is also foreign minister,  told Xinhua in an interview on Wednesday at the Summer Davos Forum being held in northeast China. "It's the most welcoming country in the region to Chinese investments, enterprises, people and culture.

Lauding the agreement signed in March on Georgia's cooperation in building the Silk Road Economic Belt, the vice prime minister added that Xi's initiative marked the beginning to a new era not only in the region, but hopefully the Eurasian continent as well.

"For this, we will need to modernize infrastructure and transport routes, and to simplify the border crossing procedures," said Kvirikashvili, highlighting Georgia's strengths in these areas. "Georgian businesses are very enthusiastic about this agreement and potential cooperation."

Georgia, with an important geographic location connecting Europe with Central Asia, can serve as an excellent trade, transport and logistics hub for Chinese companies, he said.

In response to Xi's proposal of reconstructing the ancient Silk Road, Georgia is planning a multi-lateral management council over the South Caucasus and Central Asia transport corridor in order to facilitate efficient management of the regional transport route, he said.

The country is also constructing rails that will connect Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, which would enable container trains from Beijing to go directly to Europe in about 20 days -- saving huge amounts of time and money, he said.

The "Tbilisi Silk Road Forum", expected to be launched by Georgia in October, will promote regional cooperation in transport, energy, trade and business contacts.

The official said the two countries have completed a feasibility study on a possible free trade agreement and will hopefully launch negotiations in the near future.

"It will be a new opportunity for Chinese companies to export manufacturing components to Georgia, to assemble in Georgia and then trade to European countries without tariff barriers and non-tariff barriers," he said, noting that his country has signed the Association Agreement with the European Union.

In 2014, China moved from Georgia's fourth biggest trade partner to the third, becoming the biggest investor in the third quarter of that year for the first time in bilateral relations, said the vice prime minister.

He welcomed Chinese investors to participate in the construction of a deep sea port on the Black Sea coast, as well as in other sectors such as hydropower, transport, finance and agriculture.

Kvirikashvili also noted the benefit of deeper people-to-people exchanges through the construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt.

"One private Chinese media company is conducting a Chinese beauty contest in Georgia, which I think is very positive. It's another sign of cultural relations and bringing people together," he said, adding that tourism also serves as an efficient tool in expanding people-to-people contacts.