American Chamber of Commerce Urges PM, Parliament Speaker to Drop “Foreign Agents” Bill

In an April 16 letter to Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze and Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili, the American Chamber of Commerce voices concern about the Foreign Agents Bill, which it said would undermine Georgia’s EU membership aspirations, and calls for its withdrawal.

American Chamber of Commerce is the largest business association in Georgia, and includes a huge range of Georgian and international businesses.

The letter starts with recalling the withdrawal of the same law in 2023: “We were therefore surprised and disappointed when essentially the same law was presented again,” the Chamber of Commerce says.

The Chamber expresses its concern about the draft law, stressing that “the law will damage foreign support-programs and the CSOs that work with them,” and adding that it will “undermine Georgia’s EU membership aspirations and will damage the country’s reputation and investment environment more generally.”

The Chamber emphasizes the positive role of Georgian CSOs for democracy in the country. It underlines that the projects financed by the EU and the U.S. support the development of Georgia in many spheres, such as economy, education, public policy, etc. It also emphasizes that these projects work only in the interest of Georgia.

“Labelling them as ‘foreign power interests’ undermines their legitimacy. Also, in refusing to accept this label, many organizations will close. This will clearly be to Georgia’s detriment,” the letter stresses.

The American Chamber of Commerce emphasizes the importance of EU membership for Georgia’s prosperity, democracy and security, and states that the passage of the law “will make EU membership very difficult.” The letter quotes EU Ambassador to Georgia Pawel Herczyński as saying that the law is “incompatible with European norms and European values.”

“We also continue to feel that this law stigmatizes foreigners and, as a result, can only harm Georgia’s ability to attract foreign investment,” the letter says, adding that foreign investment and expertise have been “a cornerstone” of Georgia’s economic development, stressing that “this law puts that at risk.”

Noting the GD’s argument as if the law was re-introduced by the need to increase transparency, the American Chamber of Commerce says that “it is unclear why one would target CSOs in particular.” It further notes: “Labeling all foreign support as reflecting ‘foreign power interest’ has nothing to do with transparency. If the concern is transparency, then it would seem that the appropriate mechanism would be changes to the existing structures of corporate governance and financial reporting.”

The letter emphasizes that the law does not meet international standards of transparency as it targets the CSOs rather than lobbyists, as is the case in other democracies.”In modern democracies, like the U.S. and the EU, it is true that foreign lobbyists are often required to register as such. However, these laws do not target CSO and do not apply to all entities that receive funds from outside the country.” The letter also refers to the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), noting that it only applies to lobbyists, public relations firms and law firms that are hired by a foreign power to act as its agent. “As such a relatively small percentage of registered entities are CSOs,” the letter stresses.

“Given the large negative impact that this law will cause, the fact that it is inconsistent with EU values and with international democratic best practice, we would ask that you withdraw it at the earliest possible time,” the letter concludes.

Today, April 17, the Georgian Parliament continues to debate the law, despite two days of massive protests by thousands of citizens against the law and appeals by international partners, as well as Georgian opposition MPs and politicians, for the law to be withdrawn.

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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