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By Armen Zakarian and Emil Danielyan

Armenia will likely secure the vital membership of the World Trade Organization in 2002 after several years of difficult negotiation, WTO’s visiting Director General Mike Moore said on Monday.

“We are almost there. There are one or two issues, mainly about agriculture, that we need to talk to some of our partners and formalize,” Moore told reporters in Yerevan. “I’m confident that with some pressure, some diplomacy and some flexibility, which we expect from all sides, we should be able to do this year.”

Armenian officials have been predicting an imminent WTO membership since 2000. But last-minute objections voiced by some member countries ahead of important WTO meetings have always delayed Armenia’s accession. Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Tigran Davtian, who has led Armenian government delegations in membership talks, told RFE/RL in December that Yerevan hopes to join the Geneva-based body setting rules for global trade “in the first half of 2002.”

Armenia has already enacted a set of economic laws aimed at bringing its legislation into conformity with WTO rules.

Moore, who spoke at the end of a one-day visit to Armenia, cautioned that his similar predictions have often proved wrong in the past and that it is the member states, not the WTO secretariat, which decide on accepting new members by consensus. “Every time I’ve made a prediction, I’ve been wrong by six months,” he said. “It’s very bad luck.”

Moore was quoted by the Armenian presidential press service as telling President Robert Kocharian that “procedural matters” related to Armenia’s membership will be settled by July. He also said that WTO wants to open an office in Yerevan. Kocharian, for his part, assured that “there is a consensus in Armenia regarding joining the organization.”

Some local manufacturers, however, have expressed their opposition to Yerevan’s rush to become a WTO member, arguing that opening markets to cheap foreign imports would hurt the Armenian economy. But many analysts counter that Armenia already has one of the most liberal trade regimes in the former Soviet Union, with the maximum rate of import duties set at ten percent. A joint study conducted by The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. Heritage Foundation late last year noted a “very low level of protectionism” in the country’s external trade.

Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, who also met with Moore, said WTO membership is “extremely important” for Armenia. He said it will help Armenia attract more foreign investments and facilitate its “integration into the European family.”
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