TBILISI, DFWatch – Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili hopes that the negotiations about a free trade agreement with the EU will be completed ahead of schedule.

The president said this after a meeting with Catherine Ashton, EU’s vice-president and high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.

Ashton is in Georgia within the South Caucasus visit frameworks. She began her visit in Azerbaijan, which she visited on November 15. Thursday she’ll visit Armenia.

Georgia’s foreign minister Grigol Vashadze also attended the meeting which took place at the president’s residence.

The main topics for the meeting were free trade with European countries, liberalization of visa rules and the negotiations process regarding Georgia’s associate membership in the EU, according to statements made during a briefing afterwards.

Catherine Ashton stated at the briefing that it’s a great honor for her to visit Georgia for the second time. She focused on free trade between Georgia and the EU. According to her, Georgia has shown great progress in the trade sphere and is carrying out important reforms in this area.

“Trade relations are important to the Georgian population as well as for the EU. Georgia has an extensive reform in the trade sphere,” she said, and added that technical discussions will start in Spring regarding this issue.

At the press conference Ashton also spoke about an agreement achieved between Russia and Georgia connected with Russian membership in the World Trade Organization.

The EU representative thanked Georgia for the agreement that it had reached regarding this issue and said Russia’s WTO membership creates an opportunity to develop even more trade relations between Russia and Europe.

“For me, as for the EU’s former trade commissioner, it is very pleasing to see how much progress has been made in this sphere. You work actively. A great effort is made. I want to particularly recognize how you reached a position regarding Russia’s WTO membership. Russia’s WTO membership gives us a chance to develop trade relations, which will be profitable for all of us,” Ashton said.

Regarding the easing of visa rules with the EU, Ashton noted that it is important that visas are more accessible for students, scientists and businessmen in order to have a more active and effective cooperation.

“I know the progress which has been made and salute it. There will be a technical discussions in Spring. I hope we’ll see significant progress. But at the same time we should talk about our cooperation across the region, about our foreign interest, which is not only about neighborhood or region, but about the world,” she said, adding that they had discussed these issues with the president and the foreign minister.

The Georgian president focused on that his aim is to implement the modernization plan earlier than its target, which is 2015. After finishin the negotiations, Georgia will have a free trade regime with EU countries and a visa free travel for all Georgian citizens.

(Photograph: World Economic Forum, Cologny, Switzerland, January 2009.)