Mr. Vice Prime Minister,
Mr. Secretary General of IMO,
Distinguished participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen

First & foremost, I would like to congratulate Georgian Authorities with this timely and important initiative that will help to shift the focus of the crucial part of global connectivity – maritime shipping – to the region of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea basins, as their role in global transport and trade is tend to grow dynamically. Consequently, issues related to safe and secure shipping in the Black and the Caspian seas will demand ever growing attention.

Secondly, I would like to thank the Government of Georgia for the invitation and the opportunity for GUAM Organization to share its perspective at this panel among distinguished speakers, and on a personal note – to thank for the genuine hospitality extended to me. It is a great honor, privilege and pleasure to be here in beautiful and booming touristic destination and an oldest and largest port of Batumi, which symbolizes dynamic growth and development of Georgia, as well as its growing place and role as a regional hub on the Black Sea. I had an opportunity to visit Batumi before twice, in 1989 and in 2003 and I’m really impressed with the scale and magnitude of a change of the city. Sincerely congratulate Georgian friends with such an impressive progress.

Now, let me make a brief introduction to the Organization for Democracy & Economic Development – GUAM, which perhaps for many of you is not known, and to explain how we fit into the theme of today’s Forum. Here I would like to make one important remark. In my presentation I will not share with you our experiences in addressing challenges defined in the program of the Forum, but rather stage related issues that we might be facing in our regional cooperation and development and where we will need your expertise, know-how and best practices to be used in respective areas of our cooperation.

GUAM as a regional inter-governmental setting, comprised of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova, was established in 1997 and in 2006 has been transformed into a full-fledged regional Organization for Democracy & Economic Development with political, parliamentary and economic and business dimensions. Headquarters of the Organization is in Kyiv, Ukraine.

As was mentioned earlier today by a minister, GUAM countries, indeed, share serious problems and challenges stemming from the brutal violation of their territorial integrity and sovereignty that impedes the development and regional cooperation. However, countries are also united by their common and converging interests, which is an important factor for developing cooperation with GUAM Organization and implementation of regional projects.

Areas of our cooperation are stretching from the fields such as security, including combating organized crime, illegal trafficking of drugs, arms, human beings etc., to economic, including transport, trade and investment, energy, tourism and to humanitarian spheres, such as culture, education, youth and sports etc.

However, it is the geography of GUAM countries that defines its main comparative advantage, on which we all attempt to capitalize and built up its role in the international division of labor as an important transport link between East & West. If you look at geography of GUAM, you can see that it provides a geographical short-cut, connecting Central & Northern Europe with Central Asia. It provides a vital connection in a very complicated environment and our countries see this geography as an advantage and great opportunity for the development together with the important transport link, also a safe and secure zone of peace, stability and cooperation.

Since its independence Azerbaijan has been positioning itself as a regional hub on the Caspian Sea lying on East-West and North-South cross-roads. Therefore during the last two decades country invested heavily in the development and modernization of its infrastructure. New roads, railroads and airports have been constructed and the transportation stock renovated. ICT sector development and digitalization of the economy become the most dynamic driving trends of the economy. The sector further expanded into satellite communication. New international maritime port of Alyat, the largest on the Caspian Sea, has begun its operations with a further gradual increase of its capacities, as well as of the merchant fleet.

Indeed, the policy of connectivity of Azerbaijan can be referred to as a good international example. Country pioneered and financially supported many important regional infrastructure projects, such as Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (Southern Caucasus) gas pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, connecting region with international markets. These projects not only significantly altered the economic landscape of the whole region, but also provide important alternative outlets to the land-locked republics of the Central Asia. Azerbaijan currently is involved in the implementation of the strategic Trans-Anatolian (TANAP) and the Trans-Adriatic natural gas pipeline projects connecting natural gas fields of the Caspian Sea with the markets of the Southern Europe. By contributing in this way to the European energy security, this connectivity infrastructure enhanced the geopolitical significance of the whole of the Caspian and the Black sea basins region.

On the Western edge of the Caucasus – Georgia – is another key country on the Eastern Black Sea coast that aims at maximizing its favorable geographic location and is positioning itself as an important regional transport and logistical hub as well. Since its independence Georgia has embarked on the process of development and modernization of its road and rail infrastructure. Maritime ports of Batumi and Supsa and logistical facilities have been developed, expanded and modernized. New deep water port of Anaklia, capable of berthing PANAMAX type of vessels is under construction. Georgian Railways in cooperation with China are being modernized in accordance with international norms and rules. Main objective is to optimize time of transportation, reduce costs, enhance security, and maximize capacities. Another important regional infrastructure project under the implementation is the reconstruction and expansion of East-West Highway that will be able to handle 50.000 vehicles per day.

Interconnection and interoperability of the transportation systems and related infrastructure of Azerbaijan and Georgia constitute the backbone of the Caucasus section of the Corridor.

Moldova as well is in the process of modernization of its transport sector, aimed at better integration with the neighboring countries. In 2011 the country has joined the “Zubr” container train project and in 2013 – “Viking” project (described below). EBRD is providing loan for modernization of the railways infrastructure and railways stock of the country.

Ukraine – the largest, richest and most diverse economy of the group – has one of the most developed railways networks in Europe and largest and busiest maritime ports on the Black Sea. Currently the country is undertaking measures to reform its transport sector so that it can be more competitive, cost-effective, capable to service country’s growing export and import needs, as well as to utilize its transit potential. Transport networks of Ukraine are well connected with EU countries on the West, however, Eastern dimension, which is the main direction for Ukrainian exports, is less diverse, prone to external administrative and political barriers and needs alternative routes.

Therefore, in the context of above-mentioned, transport constitutes one of the main pillars of our cooperation. It happened precisely here in Batumi in July of 2008, when at GUAM Batumi Summit Heads of State instructed their Governments to elaborate a comprehensive Concept of GUAM Transport Corridor, as well as to explore on the possibilities to cooperate with private sector and international community in its development. GUAM Transport Corridor Concept was eventually approved by the Heads of Transport authorities of GUAM member states on 13/02/2013 in Tbilisi.

The concept defines its objectives and tasks as follows: creation of the conditions for transport facilitation for the economic growth of GUAM countries; institutional reforms in transport sector, harmonization of legislation and regulatory frameworks, introduce competition to the market to increase its efficiency; facilitation of integration into European and global transport systems on the principles of European Transport Policy, approximation to international standards, technical and environmental requirements in the transport sphere; creation of flexible tariff system; enhancing of the coordinating role of the government in the development of the transport network, multi-modal transportation and logistical systems, introduction of new technologies and digitalization of the system; increasing the effectiveness of interaction among different modes of transportation; unification of tariffs; creation and development of virtual information system, development of information database in GUAM countries etc. The concept is based on the principles of environmental sustainability.

In 2015 the Conference “GUAM – Transit 2” was held in Kyiv, which focused on practical steps to make GUAM corridor more competitive, safe and secure and ensure inter-operability with the extensions into the Central Asia. First results were obtained from the test trains from Ukraine to China identifying shortcomings and bottlenecks along the way.

In May 2016 GUAM adopted the “Odesa Declaration” and the Plan of Action aimed at practical implementation of the Concept of GUAM Transport Corridor. In December 2016 the meeting of GUAM Prime ministers is scheduled to be held in Kyiv to provide a boost to the deepening of our cooperation in transport and trade.

GUAM Transport/Transit Corridor is becoming even more topical now if we consider this corridor in the context of evolving geopolitical environment. Tensions across the perimeter of the Black Sea are causing serious impediments to transport and trade. At the same time, new initiatives and developments in the region and beyond set promising prospects for cooperation and stability in the region. Here I would like to refer to just the initiative of China – “One Belt – One Road”, or the New Silk Road, which potentially can significantly increase the volume of transportation across the region. Another positive development that can add up to the cargo flow through the region is lifting the sanctions and increasing engagement of Iran in international trade.

This means that transport/ transit routes passing through this region are set to be one of important integral parts of the Middle route of the New Silk Road and GUAM countries are engaged in active dialogue with China over the implementation of possible joint projects along the Road.

One of the strongest advantages of the GUAM Transport Corridor, which underpins its international importance and significance, stems from its possibility to provide interconnections and extensions in different geographical directions.

In its north-bound extension the route can provide connectivity between the Black and the Baltic seas via “Viking” and “Zubr” railways routes connecting Ilyichevsk (Ukraine) – Minsk (Belarus) – Klaipeda (Lithuania) and Ilyichevsk (Ukraine) – Minsk (Belarus) – Riga (Latvia) – Tallinn (Estonia) respectively.

Combination of these routes with transport systems of Georgia and Azerbaijan (connecting the Baltic, the Black and the Caspian seas) and further towards Central Asia and China open up new opportunities to attract more cargo flows to GUAM transport corridor.

In west-bound extension through the Black Sea ports of Georgia can be connected with ports of Constance (Romania), Varna (Bulgaria), Black Sea ports of Turkey.
Railways of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey are being interconnected by Baku – Tbilisi – Kars project that is scheduled to be commissioned later this year. All above means that alternative opportunities of connecting East with West are becoming available.

In its east-bound extension Georgia and Azerbaijan together with the Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) have formed the Trans-Caspian Transit Corridor that will link their transport infrastructure with that of the Central Asian and further with China and South-East Asia. Recently transport agencies of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan formed the Trans-Caspian Consortium to which Ukraine has become a party.

Another initiative – is the container train “Silk Wind” connecting railways of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey thus linking Europe with China New initiative – transport corridor “Lapis Lazuli” aimed at connecting Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.

As you can see on the map – maritime connections constitute crucial links to ensure the functionality of all these transport links.

So, to conclude – maritime lines on the Caspian and on the Black Seas are indispensable for the development and functioning of the transport corridor. At the same time, these lines should be safe, secure and sustainable economically and environmentally. We are conscious that with the growing volumes of cargo and the intensity of traffic, including that of shipment of hydrocarbons, across the seas will increase the risks of accidents, oil spillovers, coastal pollution and other emergency situations that will add pressure on the fragile and unique ecosystems and environment of the Black and Caspian Seas. As we set for growth, we should be prepared for the above challenges ahead.

Therefore we consider this Forum as a very important platform that provides excellent opportunity to foster and forge cooperation among all regional stakeholders and international partners organizations, first of all UN IMO, in the areas that so important for sustainable development, for keeping oceans and our planet healthy.

Let me conclude by stating that we are confident that by serving as an important international trade and transport artery linking two global economic centers – Europe and Asia, GUAM Transport Corridor can contribute to the cooperation, development, stability and prosperity that will spill over well beyond its frontiers. GUAM as a full-fledged regional cooperation organization and as a regional stakeholder is keen to be an active partner in this process and we are open and looking forward to close cooperation.

Finally, I would like to wish every success to this Forum.

Thank you for attention.