Flag of Georgia

Georgia country brief

Overview

Georgia is a country covering around 70,000 square kilometres, lying on the southern foothills of the Greater Caucasus mountain range, and on the south-eastern shores of the Black Sea. It is bordered by Russia to the north, Turkey to the south-west, Armenia to the south and Azerbaijan to the south-east. Georgia has a population of 4.5 million (2012).

Georgia's national day, known as Independence Day, is celebrated on 26 May.

Political overview

Georgia declared independence on 9 April 1991, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Georgian political system is a presidential republic. The Parliament consists of a unicameral Republican Council (Parliament) with 235 seats. Members are elected by popular vote for a four-year term. The last parliamentary election was held on 1 October 2012. The opposition party, Georgian Dream – led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili – won the election in a surprise result, marking the first peaceful political transition since independence. Georgian Dream won 85 out of 150 seats in parliament with 65 seats for President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement. Mr Ivanishvili was sworn in as Prime Minister on 25 October 2012.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) election observer mission reported that the October elections marked an important step in consolidating the conduct of democratic elections in Georgia – elections were competitive with active citizen participation throughout the campaign, including in peaceful mass rallies. However, the OSCE also noted that the environment in the lead up to polling day was polarised and tense. A small Australian parliamentary delegation contributed to international election monitoring efforts.

Mr Mikheil Saakashvili, the current President, won a second term by direct popular vote on 5 January 2008 with 53.5 per cent of ballots cast. The next presidential election is scheduled for October 2013, but Mr Saakashvili will not be eligible to run due to constitutional constraints limiting individuals to two presidential terms. The majority of the President's executive powers will be transferred to the Prime Minister under constitutional reforms that took effect in January 2013.

Shortly after independence, Georgia became a member of the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund. Georgia is also a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Council of Europe, the World Trade Organization, NATO's Partnership for Peace, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Black Sea Regional Economic Group and the Asian Development Bank. Georgia has been assisting the NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan since 2004 and is the largest non-NATO troop contributor in Afghanistan with over 1500 troops deployed.

Economic overview

Georgia's economy has traditionally revolved around Black Sea tourism; cultivation of citrus fruits, nuts, tea, and grapes; mining of manganese and copper; and the output of a small industrial sector producing wine, metals, machinery, repaired and remanufactured vehicles, chemicals and textiles.

Turkey is currently Georgia's largest trading partner, and Russia is critically important for Georgia's energy needs (natural gas and oil).  However, Georgia is well-positioned on the route of existing and proposed new energy pipelines taking Caspian Sea oil and gas resources from Azerbaijan into Western Europe, which have the potential to reduce Georgia’s dependence on Russian energy.

Georgia's economy was slowed by the global economic crisis and its August 2008 conflict with neighbouring Russia. However, the country consolidated its economic recovery in 2010–11 as a result of Government economic and fiscal policy reforms. While the eurozone debt crisis saw decreased growth in emerging economies in Eastern and Central Europe, the Georgian economy grew strongly by 7 per cent in 2011 on the back of strong exports and tourism inflows and high levels of public investment.

The World Bank's 'Doing Business 2013' report regards Georgia as the 9th easiest economy in which to do business throughout the world, up from 12th in 2012. The World Bank has commended Georgia's commitment to economic reform over the last few years.

Bilateral relationship

Although Australia immediately recognised the independence of the eleven founding members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Australia's recognition of Georgia was slightly delayed due to the outbreak of civil war in Georgia. Australia recognised Georgia's independence on 29 March 1992.

In September 2010, Australia contributed to a NATO Partnership for Peace Trust Fund project for the clearance of unexploded ordnance in Georgia. Australia also provided A$1 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Georgia in August 2008 through the United Nations' Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and the International Committee of the Red Cross / Red Crescent following Georgia's conflict with Russia.

Georgia established its first Embassy in Australia in March 2012. The Australian Embassy in Turkey provides consular assistance to Australians in Georgia and Australia's Ambassador in Ankara has non-resident accreditation to Georgia.

According to the 2011 census, 489 people in Australia claim Georgian ancestry. The majority of the Australian-Georgian community live in New South Wales and Victoria.

High Level Visits

The Prime Minister's Special Envoy to Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Caucasus, Russell Trood visited Georgia in June 2012 and Georgia's then Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze visited Australia in October 2011. Former Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Nalbandian visited Australia in November 2010. Georgia's then deputy Minister for Agriculture led a delegation visit to Australia in February 2007. In early 2004, the Georgian State Dance Company toured Australia, giving performances in more than 30 metropolitan and regional centres. In October 2003, the Georgian national rugby team visited Australia to participate in the Rugby World Cup 2003 tournament.

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

Australia's merchandise trade and investment relationship with Georgia is modest. In 2012, total two-way merchandise trade was worth A$22.0 million. Australian exports were worth A$15.6 million. Manganese ores and concentrates was the largest item (A$9.0 million). Imports totaled A$6.4 million and consisted mainly of rubber tyres, treads and tubes (A$4.3 million).

Updated July 2013