The Georgian government has committed to greater transparency and simplicity of regulation. The government publishes laws and regulations in Georgian in the official online legislative herald gazette, the Legislative Messenger, ‘Matsne’ (www.matsne.gov.ge ). Another online tool to research Georgian legislation is www.codex.ge , or webpage of the Parliament of Georgia www.parliament.ge .
Draft bills or regulations are available for public comment. NGOs, professional associations, and business chambers actively participate in public hearings on legislation.
Georgia has six types of taxes: corporate profit, value added tax (VAT), property, income, excise, and dividend. The tax on corporate profits is 15 percent. However, in January 2017, the government adopted a corporate profit tax scheme that exempts undistributed, reinvested, or retained corporate profits from income taxation. The VAT is 18 percent. The tax on personal income is 20 percent. The dividend income tax rate is five percent. There are no dividend or capital gains taxes for publicly traded equities (a free float in excess of 25 percent). There are excise taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, fuel, and mobile telecommunication. Most goods, except for some agricultural products, have no import tariffs. For goods with tariffs, the rates are five or 12 percent unless excluded by an FTA.
In 2019, the Georgian government introduced new regulations to simplify the tax regime and provide a more streamlined business environment for small businesses. The new legislation decreased turnover tax from five percent to one percent for small businesses; defined small business as a business with below GEL 0.5 million annual turnover (USD 185 thousand), a five fold increase from the previous GEL 0.1 million threshold. In addition, the new regulations allow small businesses to pay taxes by the end of month, instead of by advance payments. Regarding medium and large businesses, the reform introduces an automatic system of value-added tax (VAT) returns, and activated a special system wherein entrepreneurs are able to pay VAT returns in five to seven business days by filling out an electronic application without any additional bureaucracy-related challenges. The government also announced it planned to implement new tax policies to encourage multinational companies to establish regional offices in Georgia. Respective legislation, which, inter alia, provides for reduced corporate income tax and property tax, has been submitted to Parliament and is expected to be adopted in 2019.
Enterprise Georgia, the state agency under the Ministry of Economic and Sustainable Development, operates the Business Service Center in Tbilisi intended to provide domestic and foreign businesses with a standard package of information about doing business in Georgia. It also provides specific information for individual businesses. The Business Service Center also facilitates an on-line chat tool for interested individuals (http://www.enterprisegeorgia.gov.ge/en/SERVICE-CENTER ). Additionally, the government has institutionalized engagement with the private sector through an independent Investors Council, which discusses legislative reforms, the government’s economic development plan, and actions that would help spur economic growth. Different commercial chambers, such as the American Chamber of Commerce (www.amcham.ge ), International Chamber of Commerce (www.icc.ge ), Business Association of Georgia (www.bag.ge ), Georgian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (www.gcci.ge ), and EU-Georgia Business Council (http://eugbc.net ) remain important tools for facilitating ongoing dialogue between domestic and foreign business communities and the government.
International accounting standards are binding for joint stock companies, banks, insurance companies, and other companies operating in the insurance field, limited liability companies, limited partnerships, joint liability companies, and cooperatives. Private companies are required to perform accounting and financial reporting in accordance with international accounting standards. Sole entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-commercial legal entities perform accounting and financial reporting according to simplified interim standards approved by the Parliamentary Accounting Commission. Shortcomings in the use of international accounting standards persist, and qualified accounting personnel are in short supply.
The Law of Georgia on Free Trade and Competition provides for the establishment of an independent structure, the Competition Agency, to exercise effective state supervision over a free, fair, and competitive market environment. Nonetheless, certain companies have dominant positions in pharmaceutical, petroleum, and other sectors.
Public finances and debt obligations are transparent, and Georgia’s budget and information on debt obligations were widely and easily accessible to the public through the governmental websites, for example through the Ministry of Finance’s site www.mof.gov.ge . Georgia’s State Audit Office (www.sao.ge ) reviews the government’s accounts and makes its reports publicly available.
International Regulatory Considerations
Georgia’s Association Agreement of 2014 with the European Union introduced a preferential trade regime – the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), which increased market access between the EU and Georgia based on having better-aligned regulations. The agreement is designed to gradually introduce European standards in all spheres of Georgia’s economy and sectoral policy: infrastructure, energy, the environment, agriculture, tourism, technological development, employment and social policy, health protection, education, culture, civil society, and regional development. It also provides for the approximation of Georgian laws with nearly 300 separate European legislative acts.
The DCFTA should promote a gradual approximation with European standards for food safety; establish a transparent and stable business environment in Georgia; increase Georgia’s potential to attract investment; introduce innovative approaches and new technologies; stimulate economic growth; and support the country’s economic development.
Georgia has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 2000 and consistently meets the Agreement on Trade Related Investment Measures’ (TRIMs) requirements and obligations. Since WTO accession, Georgia has not introduced any Technical Barriers to Trade. In January 2016, Georgia ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Georgia’s legal system is based on civil law and the country has a three-tier court system. The first tier consists of twenty-five trial courts throughout the country that hear criminal, civil, and administrative cases at the lowest level. Two appellate courts, Tbilisi Appeal Court (East Georgia) and Kutaisi Appeal Court (West Georgia), represent the second tier. The Supreme Court of Georgia occupies the third, or the highest, instance and acts as the highest appellate court. In addition, there is a separate Constitutional Court for arbitrating constitutional disputes between branches of government and ruling on individual claims concerning human rights violations stemming from the Constitution.
Georgia does not have an integrated commercial code. There are a number of different laws and codes (Tax Code, Law on Entrepreneurs, and Law on Insolvency) that constitute the legislative body for regulating commercial activity in Georgia. There are no specialized courts, such as a commercial court, to handle commercial disputes. The Ministry of Justice’s Public Service Halls provide property registration.
According to Freedom House’s 2018 Freedom in the World Report, “despite ongoing judicial reforms, executive and legislative interference in the courts remains a substantial problem, as does corruption and a lack of transparency and professionalism surrounding judicial proceedings.” The law guarantees due process, but this protection is not always respected in practice.
Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable and are adjudicated in the national court system.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The U.S.-Georgia BIT guarantees U.S. investors national treatment and most favored nation treatment. Exceptions to national treatment have been carved out for Georgia in certain sectors such as maritime fisheries, air and maritime transport and related activities, ownership of broadcast, common carrier, or aeronautical radio stations, communications satellites, government-supported loans, guarantees, and insurance, and landing of submarine cables.
Georgia’s legal system is based on civil law. Legislation governing foreign investment includes the Constitution, the Civil Code, the Tax Code, and the Customs Code. Other relevant legislation includes the Law on Entrepreneurs, the Law on Promotion and Guarantee of Investment Activity, the Bankruptcy Law, the Law on Courts and General Jurisdiction, the Law on Limitation of Monopolistic Activity, the Accounting Law, and the Securities Market Law.
Ownership and privatization of property is governed by the following acts: the Civil Code, the Law on Ownership of Agricultural Land, the Law on Private Ownership of Non-Agricultural Land, the Law on Management of State-Owned Non-Agricultural Land, and the Law on Privatization of State Property. Property rights in extractive industries are governed by the Law on Concessions, the Law on Deposits, and the Law on Oil and Gas. Intellectual property rights are protected under the Civil Code and the Law on Patents and Trademarks. Financial sector legislation includes the Law on Commercial Banks, the Law on National Banks, and the Law on Insurance Activities.
There is no one-stop-shop website for investment that provides relevant laws in English.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The Georgian Law “On Free Trade and Competition” of 2005 that governs competition is in line with the Georgian Constitution and international agreements.
The agency in charge of reviewing transactions for competition-related concerns is the Competition Agency, an independent legal entity of public law, subordinated to the Prime Minister of Georgia. The agency aims to promote market liberalization, free trade, and competition (see www.competition.ge ). Georgia has also signed a number of international agreements containing competition provisions including the EU-Georgia Association Agreement. The DCFTA within the AA goes further than most FTAs, with elimination of non-tariff barriers and regulatory alignment, as well as binding rules on investments and services.
Expropriation and Compensation
The Georgian Constitution protects property ownership rights, including ownership, acquisition, disposal, and inheritance of property. Foreign citizens living in Georgia possess rights and obligations equal to those of the citizens of Georgia. The Constitution allows restriction or revocation of property rights only in cases of extreme public necessity, and then only as allowed by law.
The Law on Procedures for Forfeiture of Property for Public Needs establishes the rules for expropriation in Georgia. The law allows expropriation for certain enumerated public needs, provides a mechanism for valuation and payment of compensation, and for court review of the valuation at the option of any party. The Georgian Law on Investment allows expropriation of foreign investments only with appropriate compensation. Amendments made to the Law on Procedures for Forfeiture of Property for Public Needs allow payment of compensation with property of equal value as well as money. Compensation includes all expenses associated with the valuation and delivery of expropriated property. Compensation must be paid without delay and must include both the value of the expropriated property as well as the loss suffered by the foreign investor as a result of expropriation. The foreign investor has a right to review an expropriation in a Georgian court. In 2007, Parliament passed a law generally prohibiting the government from contesting the privatization of real estate sold by the government before August 2007. The law is not applicable, however, to certain enumerated properties.
The U.S.-Georgia BIT permits expropriation of covered investments only for a public purpose, in a non-discriminatory manner, upon payment of prompt, adequate and effective compensation, and in accordance with due process of law and general principles of fair treatment.
Expropriation disputes are not common in Georgia, although under the previous government (before 2012), reputable NGOs raised cases of illegal revocation of historic ownership rights in Svaneti, Anaklia, Gonio, and Black Sea-adjacent territories. There were cases of transfer of property under the previous government, which lacked transparency and allegedly were implemented under coercion. One U.S. company recently alleged their assets were expropriated through government actions, but the government settled the issue by providing compensation to the company.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Since 1992, Georgia has been a member of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention), and a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).
As a result of these international obligations, Georgia is bound to accept international arbitration and recognize arbitral awards. The Ministry of Justice oversees the government’s interests in arbitrations between the state and private investors.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Georgia has signed bilateral investments treaties (BITs) with over 30 countries including the United States. Georgian investment law allows disputes between a foreign investor and a government body to be resolved in Georgian courts or at ICSID, unless a different method of dispute settlement is agreed upon between the parties. If the dispute cannot be heard at ICSID, the foreign investor can also submit the dispute to ad-hoc international arbitration under United Nations Commission for International Trade Law (UNCITRAL model law) rules. The right to use ICSID or UNCITRAL arbitration is reflected in the U.S.-Georgia BIT.
There were reports of lack of due process and respect for rule of law in a number of property rights cases. NGOs also reported several cases in which groups claimed the government improperly used taxes on property to pressure organizations.
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, there remains indications of interference in judicial independence and impartiality. Judges are vulnerable to political pressure from within and outside of the judiciary.
Disputes over property rights at times have undermined confidence in the impartiality of the Georgian judicial system and rule of law, and by extension, Georgia’s investment climate. The government identified judicial reform as one of its top priorities, and Parliament has passed a series of reforms aimed at strengthening judicial independence. While reforms have improved the independence of the judiciary, politically sensitive cases are still vulnerable to political pressure. The High Council of Justice is currently dominated by a group of anti-reform judges. Civil society asserts this group applies pressure on judges in politically sensitive cases. The government is currently in the process of passing additional judicial reforms that focus on judicial discipline and regulating the operations of the High School of Justice and High Council of Justice.
Over the past ten years, there have been five investment disputes involving U.S. citizens, and all of them have been resolved through arbitral awards or out-of-court settlements.
Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government.
There is no substantial history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Georgia’s arbitration law went into force on January 1, 2010. Georgia has enacted legislation based on the UNCITRAL Model Law. Domestic private arbitration firms, such as the International Arbitration Center (www.giec.ge ), operate in dispute resolution between two private parties.
The Law of Georgia on Insolvency Proceedings regulates rehabilitation and bankruptcy. The law defines two types of creditors: secured and non-secured. Creditors can file a court claim for opening an insolvency proceeding, given certain conditions are satisfied (conditions vary, depending on the outstanding debt amount and the delayed days of repayment).
Creditor meetings are held in court and chaired by a judge. The creditor meeting can decide several issues, including the appointment of a supervisor of the bankruptcy or rehabilitation proceedings, and the appointment of a member of the facilitation council.
Secured creditors: Secured creditors must make unanimous decisions on approving a debtor’s new debts, the encumbrance of the debtor’s property, and suretyship. If there are no secured creditors, the creditor’s meeting is authorized to make the same decisions. The secured creditors may suspend enforcement of the following resolutions made in the creditor’s meeting on the material conditions of the agreement with the bankruptcy or rehabilitation supervisor or on the definition of the terms of the rehabilitation. After the debtor’s property is sold on auction, secured creditors have first priority for being repaid. All secured creditors must approve the rehabilitation plan and plan amendments. New equity investment in the debtor’s company is only possible if there are prior consents from all secured creditors and the rehabilitation supervisor.
Non-secured creditors: Non-secured creditors are satisfied only after all secured creditors are satisfied (unless otherwise agreed by all creditors unanimously). Non-secured creditors do not have voting rights for the rehabilitation plan approval.
The priority system shall not apply to creditors whose claim is secured by financial collateral.
Foreign creditors: The law provides additional time for foreign creditors to file claims. Creditors may file claims to the court and request to declare the agreements made by the insolvent debtor voidable and/or request reimbursement of damages, if such agreements inflicted damages to the creditor.
The Law of Georgia on Insolvency Proceedings only incurs criminal liabilities in case the debtor does not provide, or provides but with intentional delay, or provides falsified information about its obligations, assets, financial situation and activities, or ongoing disputes in which the debtor is involved.
The Debt Registry of the National Agency of the Public Register is Georgia’s credit monitoring authority.
According to the “Resolving Insolvency” section of the World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business Report, the Law of Georgia on Insolvency Proceedings made insolvency proceedings more accessible for debtors and creditors, improved provisions on treatment of contracts during insolvency, and granted creditors greater participation in important decisions during the proceedings. The report assigned Georgia a higher insolvency score, increasing from 55.59 in 2018 to 56.03 in 2019.