Juan Echanove: There is a future of Georgian products in Europe
30 June, 2015
Juan Echanove: There is a future of Georgian products in Europe
Agriculture really has a future in Georgia and the country will be able not only to feed itself but also to export to the EU, believes Juan Echanove, Project Manager of Agriculture, Rural Development and Food Safety from the Delegation of the European Union to Georgia.

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Meanwhile, Georgia should tighten food safety control as it is one of the challenges Georgia faces in the Euro integration process.

After signing the Association Agreement Georgia has the ability to use all the advantages brought by having an AA with the European Union especially from the economic and free trade point of view. This means that Georgia can become a valuable part of Europe’s common economic market. However, Georgia should be ready to start exporting its production to the European market for which EU has been providing support.

“Gradually Georgia has to fulfil all the food safety requirements,” said Juan Echanove. “I already see the improvements in this direction. The process is complex and will take a long time, but the EU is here to provide support, which consists of capacity building and funds to the institutions in Georgia that are in the front line to improve the system. I doubt that Georgia will improve the general situation within the next several years. Having a Free Trade Agreement with the EU does not mean that Europe will reduce the requirements on food safety of Georgian products,” he added.

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Strengthening food safety control will help Georgia to integrate with the EU.

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- How do you see the future of Georgian agricultural products on EU market?

- In terms of export to Europe I do see the strong possibilities for Georgian agricultural products in two main directions. One is to expand an increase of those products’ export that Georgia is already exporting and hazelnuts are very clear example.

Georgia already exports hazelnuts in Europe but it also exports this product to Turkey, which re-sends hazelnuts to Europe as Turkey’s product. The margin is in the hands of Turkey’s side, not that much in Georgia’s. This is because Georgia still does not have the sufficient reputation in terms of the quality of hazelnuts, volumes, etc.

There are certain niches where Georgia is not exporting that much where there are significant possibilities in Europe. For example, it regards to wild fruit, organic vegetables. There is a possibility of honey exporting as well. Honey cannot be exported to Europe yet but we do hope that this will change soon.

Hazelnuts, honey have future in Europe.

There is market for Georgian wine as well but in certain part of Europe. For example, the Eastern European countries that do not produce wine and are familiar with Georgian wine are the markets where Georgian wine can be sold successfully.

- Besides exporting to EU how do you see the development of Georgian agricultural sector?

- I would not say that the only or the main future of agricultural products in Georgia is to export to Europe. First, because, when the country like Georgia is importing so much food stuff, the better is to try to replace the imported products with locally produced ones. Many things that Georgia imports from the neighbor countries can be easily grown in Georgia. To me this is the first potential.

Georgia can to farther commercial links with Turkey. Now trade balance of Georgia with Turkey is very negative. There are many things that Georgia imports from Turkey but Turkish tracks leave the country almost empty. China and Middle the East are also promising markets for many Georgina products.

- What are the key challenges that Georgian agricultural sector faces currently?

- The majority of Georgian farmers, 95 percent, are small-time growers who own cultivate one hectare of land and own one or two cows. Limited production does not allow them to compete with imported products and their profits are low as a result.

Subsequently, a farmer only has enough produce to feed his family and cannot contribute to the country’s economy. To solve this problem the EU has offered Georgian farmers the opportunity to unite under a cooperative scheme and work towards a common goal - developing the economy.

When we were building the European Union, development of agriculture played an important role. We still have a famous common agriculture policy which is a key element in Europe. In Europe, cooperatives are business-oriented and they produce a lot. They produce quality food that targets the market very efficiently. We are here to share our experience with Georgia. I see that the number of cooperatives have been increasing Georgia and the farmers have been becoming more business oriented. Modern farmers are businessmen. They have to be able to sell what they produce. Producing without selling does not make much economic sense.

Another challenge is the food safety issue which is one of the regulations that Georgia should implement within the framework of AA.

We should say that food safety and food quality are different things and both of them should be kept. Maybe the products that are produced in Georgia are quality but the food safety is still a challenge.

As the farmers cannot afford the pesticides people believe that they produce organic food. This is not true. First of all it does not matter whether a farmer uses pesticides now or not, but what the soil contains. In the Soviet Union there was very heavy use of pesticides and they are still in the soil. Furthermore, it is not true also that the farmers in Georgia do not use the fertilizers or pesticides. Many cannot afford it, but some of them do. Healthy food is not a synonym of organic production. You can have healthy food grown with pesticides if they have right pesticides and right proportions.

The problem is that in the past all the control systems of food safety were abolished. But now the products which are not safe are better control in the bordersof Georgia. It does not hamper trade relations with other countries. On the contrary, this creates positive image for Georgia as food trade follows the international standards now and this is good. There were traders who were buying the products in Turkey which were impossible to sell on local market as they were not following any standards. Such products were expired and were re-sold in Georgia. The traders used to make money out of nothing as these products were very cheap. But now such things are much better controlled.

- EU says that Georgia should strengthen food safety control. More specifically, who should do this - farmers, companies?

- Food safety regulations only apply to the foods that are placed on the market. Many farmers in Georgia produce very little and do not sell on the market. For these farmers food safety control does not apply. But if a factory produces for example cheese which does not meet the food safety standards, it is already a problem. So these standards apply only to producers selling their products. The farmers can produce in a traditional way but they should inform people about that and follow some basic hygiene rules. We do not expect that every restaurant in Georgia, every small grocery or hotel will implement the whole sophisticated rules which control food safety in big processing companies. Small business should obey very simple rules like the cooker to clean his/her hands before cooking, to keep the kitchen clean, to wear a hat not to throw anything in the meal and so on. This all very reasonable, I believe.

The biggest problem is to improve the food safety issues with SMEs such as middle size companies in the regions who are putting production on the market. Maybe the companies are not super happy to start working on this direction but in the long-term perspective they will see that it is useful for their business. Matching the food safety requirements is not a cost, it is an investment for the future of a company.

It is true that for food safety control companies will have to allocate a certain budget but when companies have better food safety standards they will also get benefits. They will be able to have access to international markets and their positive positions will raise them on the Georgian market itself.

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Georgia is a very special, very attractive country full of good people, of values. It will be perfect if all these things will be associated with products. When people talk about the perfume they associate it to France. Fashion is associated with Italy. Fun, party life is associated with Spain. Georgia also has the values that could be associated with the country. You need to give your country a proper image. Then you need stronger chambers and stronger farmer associations which will work hand in hand with Georgian Government.


Author:
Mary Papidze

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