Georgia country brief
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 4.9 million (2014).
Georgia declared independence on 9 April 1991, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Georgia's national day, known as Independence Day, is celebrated on 26 May.
The Georgian political system is a semi-presidential republic. The Parliament is unicameral with 150 seats, of which 77 members are proportional representatives and 73 are elected through a single-member district plurality system, representing their constituencies. Members are elected for a four-year term. Since 2012, Parliament has convened at the new parliament building in Kutaisi.
The last parliamentary election was held on 1 October 2012. The opposition, Georgian Dream coalition, led by Mr Bidzina Ivanishvili, won 85 out of 150 seats. 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 considered competitive with active citizen participation throughout the campaign, including in peaceful mass rallies, despite tensions and polarisation in the lead up to polling day. Two Australian parliamentarians participated in international election monitoring efforts. All parties were congratulated for overseeing the first peaceful political transition since independence.
On 2 November 2013, Mr Ivanishvili voluntarily stepped down and the then-Minister for Internal Affairs, Mr Irakli Garibashvili, was appointed as Prime Minister.
The Georgian president is elected by popular vote for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The last presidential election was held in October 2013. Mr Giorgi Margvelashvili of the Georgian Dream coalition won the presidential election with a 62 per cent majority and was inaugurated as President on 17 November 2013. Many of the Georgian President's executive powers were transferred to the Prime Minister under constitutional reforms that took effect in January 2013.
Popular and government support for EU/Atlantic integration is high in Georgia. Joining the European Union and NATO are among the country’s top foreign policy goals. Georgia has suffered from bouts of internal instability since 1991, particularly in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but is trying to increase pragmatic engagement with these regions while, simultaneously, trying to diffuse tensions with Russia in both multilateral and bilateral fora, after the five-day war of 2008.
Shortly after independence, Georgia became a member of the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund. Georgia is also a member of the 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 ceased its membership of the Commonwealth of Independent States following its 2008 war with Russia. Georgia has been assisting the NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan since 2004 and was the largest non-NATO troop contributor to ISAF in Afghanistan with over 1500 troops deployed.
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.
Since 2004, successive Georgian governments have made significant efforts to reform and modernise political, economic and security institutions and governance. The focus has been on reducing regulation, taxes and corruption in order to attract foreign investment, and developing hydropower, agriculture, tourism and textiles production.
The World Bank has commended Georgia's commitment to economic reform over the last few years, particularly its anti-corruption efforts and for the ease of doing business.
Turkey and Azerbaijan are currently Georgia's largest trading partners, 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.
Australia recognised Georgia's independence on 29 March 1992.
Australia and Georgia share a warm bilateral relationship which has, in recent years, focused on growing commercial ties and people-to-people links, especially in education. Australia also provided A$1 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Georgia in August 2008 following Georgia's conflict with Russia, through the United Nations' Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and the International Committee of the Red Cross / Red Crescent. In September 2010, Australia contributed to a NATO Partnership for Peace Trust Fund project for the clearance of unexploded ordnance in Georgia.
Australia’s Ambassador in Ankara has non-resident accreditation to Georgia. The Ambassador and other diplomatic staff visit regularly. The Australian Embassy in Ankara provides consular assistance to Australians in Georgia. Georgia established an Embassy in Australia in March 2012.
According to the most recent (2011) census, 489 people in Australia claim Georgian ancestry.
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 Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze made an official visit to Australia in October 2011. Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Nalbandov visited Australia in November 2010 and signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Bilateral economic and trade relationship
Australia and Georgia are looking for ways to increase the trade and investment relationship, which is currently modest. In 2013, total two-way merchandise trade was worth A$31.6 million. Australian exports were worth A$28.8 million. Ores and concentrates, particularly manganese was the largest item (A$17.2 million). Imports totalled A$2.8 million and consisted mainly of fruit juices, prepared additives for mineral oils and synthetic rubber.