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"Ladies and Gentlemen! Dear Guests!

Let me greet you all! Welcome to Tbilisi Silk Road Forum!

This year forum echoes the success of its two previous ones. I am thrilled that Georgia continues to host such significant events and today we have gathered almost 2000 delegates from over 60 countries of the world.

Georgia was historically playing a significant role in the development of the Silk Road.

In the context of modern economic integration and globalization, when trade and economic cooperation acquires greatest importance, concept of the New Silk Road and participation in it is a greater priority and pride of ours.

It is worth noting that Georgia was one of the first countries that followed the initiative of Xi Jinping, President of China on the One Belt, One Road. It is an initiative on the creation of new trade and transport corridors and improvement of the existing ones, which serves as a basis for mutually beneficial cooperation principles and aims to support the advancement of trade and economic relations between China and countries supporting the initiative.

Georgia supported the referred initiative and concluded an MOU with China in 2015, which gave a new momentum to the Chinese-Georgian relations. We already have specific results towards this end - Georgia has concluded an FTA with the People's Republic of China.

Tbilisi Silk Road Forum is a significant opportunity to deepen links between Asia and Europe. This forum is an effective platform, where the countries of Silk Road Initiative, international organizations and representatives of the private sector discuss economic challenges faced in the region, solutions to them and prospects of cooperation.

Forum today will focus on several significant directions, which serve as a basis for the effective implementation of the New Silk Road as a concept. Of course, topics of discussion will include: transport, international trade, advanced technologies and all of that will further strengthen and facilitate boosted economic cooperation between our countries.

International Trade Facilitation is a significant step made towards economic growth and development. Businesses are the main driving force of economic growth and ultimate beneficiary of trade reforms implemented by Governments. Smaller administrative, logistic and transport barriers, simplified and harmonized trade process facilitates the advancement of our common trade potential and creates a platform of wider development opportunities.

It is important to create a stable, foreseeable and attractive environment for the multinational players operating in the region. Also, it is utterly important to remove the non-tariff barriers through the improved border crossing and other administrative procedures, development of the transport infrastructure and reduction of the cost of transportation.

It is worth noting that Georgia pursues one of the most liberal trade policies in the world towards this end through levying 0% import duty on 80% of imported commodities, simplified customs procedures and marginal non-tariff regulations.

Georgia as a consumer market of only 3.7 million people may be deemed as less attractive, though if we look at Georgia as a regional hub, we will get a completely different picture. We see Georgia as a gateway not only in the South Caucasus, but in Central Asia, EU and ultimately to the Western and Eastern markets.

Along with the favorable investment environment, investors in Georgia may gain a preferential access to a sales marker with 2.3 billion potential consumers and it is enabled through a web of FTAs concluded by the country. Core infrastructure of these consumer markets comprises FTAs that Georgia has already concluded. These are, as I already mentioned, FTAs with China, EU, CIS, Turkey and Ukraine. I wish to note that negotiations are currently held on signing FTAs with India and Israel.

Respectively, Georgia with its strategic location between Europe and Asia is well positioned with its well-developed transport and customs infrastructure, pro-business policy, strong regional and overall trade relations. It has a tremendous potential to perform a role of the hub and continue further with trade facilitation between Asia and Europe.

In addition, it is of critical importance for the development of international trade to have upgraded transport network and infrastructure.

Development of new transport corridors in the current global world is not only an opportunity, but a necessity for the facilitation of international trade and efficient economic growth.

It is worth noting that significant steps have been made in the recent years for making the transit and logistic function of Georgia far stronger in terms of infrastructure upgrade, improvement of the legal framework and integration in the international transport systems.

In this context Georgia is a reliable and significant partner in the region. Georgia is a member of Trans-European-Caucasus-Asian Transport Corridor since its establishment. Besides, we acceded to the Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation Program in 2016 and since then have been actively cooperating with member states towards multiple directions. Being the shortest road connecting Asia with Europe, Georgia is also engaged in various initiatives to develop various new initiatives of transport routs, e.g. Middle Corridor Lapis Lazuli and others.

With an aim of incentivized international shipments and forwarding, deepened trade and economic relations, great importance has been acquired by the sound operation of transport infrastructure in the region. On the background of these very challenges, large regional transport infrastructure projects are implemented in the country, e.g. Baku-Tbilisi-Kars new railway link, modernization of the Georgian Railway, construction of a highway, upgrades of port infrastructure at the Black Sea and construction of a new deep-see port.

Herewith, I wish to underline the significance of engagement in the Trans-European Network of Transportation for the countries of Eastern Partnership for boosting the transport links with the EU. You may well be aware that free trade regimes, on the one hand with China and on the other - with EU, make Georgia a unique country in the region with great opportunities offered to domestic and international investors.

At the same time, it is none the less important to develop the energy corridors. Considering the geo-political location of Georgia, country has a significant potential to serve as an energy corridor. Hence, Georgia welcomes and supports the development of a South Gas Corridor, which covers the implementation of Shah Deniz Phase Two, extension of the South Caucasus Pipeline, along with the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline and construction of a Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, which is also labeled as a Silk Road of Energy.

And lastly, I cannot help touching upon yet another significant topic - advanced technologies which will be discussed at length at various panels of the Forum.

21st century has been recognized as a digital era and therefore advanced technologies are developing super-fast, having already made a significant impact on the social, economic and political transformation of the world.

Nevertheless, serious challenges exist towards this end as well, with realistic risks of cyber security, human rights and confidentiality, saying nothing about the clear and significant impact on the labor markets.

Forum today allows for the conceptualization of the aforesaid, thereby being a venue of experience sharing with each other.

As a conclusion, let me say that I am confident that this 2-day event of international magnitude will be an effective discussion platform for our guests. I am convinced also that Tbilisi Silk Road Forum will play its significant role in the implementation of the New Silk Road prospects and position our country and our region in your eyes as a place of new opportunities and new achievements.

We believe that we - Georgians - will benefit of this forum in delivering our mission in a better and more effective manner, enabling us to be a bridge between Europe and Asia, place where two civilizations meet each other. We are in Georgia - a country with its past and traditions serving as a foundation for our future, future of us all, future of our region with a prime goal - prosperity of our countries and citizens, of course.

Ladies and Gentlemen! Once again let me thank you all for being here today. I wish you most successful days, wishing success personally to you and your countries!"