Business Associations Speak Out Against the “Foreign Agents” Law

Georgian and international businesses and investors represented by the American Chamber of Commerce, the European Business Association, the EU Georgia Business Council, and the German Business Association addressed a letter to Georgian Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili regarding Russia-inspired law on “foreign agents” endorsed by the ruling majority, saying that if adopted, the law “will create a negative perception of foreign support-programs, will harm Georgia’s prospects for EU membership and will damage the investment environment.”

“It seems clear that this law will clash with EU principles and therefore harm Georgia’s prospects for EU membership,” they said and welcomed the decision to send the draft for the review by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, but encouraged “suspending the passage of the law until the Venice Commission have commented.”

The business associations noted that the implication of the “agent” label pinned by this draft law on CSOs and media is that they are damaging the Georgian people. However, projects financed by Georgia’s partners, like the EU, the U.S., and many others, “are doing great work to support Georgia’s development in the economy, in education, in public policy, and much more. Discouraging these projects will do great harm to the country.”

The authors also said the law’s passage that stigmatizes foreign involvement may discourage foreign investment. “Laws that ostracize foreigners undermine that investment when we need it most,” the letter reads.

The business associations also reject the authors’ premise that the draft targets harmful influences: “if the law, for example, only targeted NGOs financed by political actors who do not recognize Georgia’s territorial integrity, that would seem entirely reasonable,” they note.

Neither does the law “control foreign lobbyists,” as is done in the U.S., they argue, saying “the American law applies explicitly to lobbyists, public relations companies and law firms, that are hired by a foreign power to act as their agent. It does not apply to other NGOs/charities that receive financing to support their normal work.”

Noting that business organizations very rarely make public comments on issues of public policy, the authors of the letter clarify that “we are only speaking publicly now, because we feel so strongly about the potential negative impact of this new law, particularly on the economy and Georgian people’s livelihoods.”

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