By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian, in Bulgaria on a state visit, has presented a highly positive outlook for Armenia’s economy, saying that it will continue to growth rapidly and will be close to meeting the European Union’s requirements for new member states by 2015.
“The Armenian economy is entering a period of sustainable development,” he said in a speech on Monday. “According to our long-term development program, the level of economic development must be comparable to the minimum criteria set by the European Union by the year 2015.”
Citing recent years’ official macroeconomic statistics, Kocharian claimed that his administration is successfully “overcoming many problems of the transition period.” Government figures, challenged by Kocharian’s political opponents, have shown Armenia’s Gross Domestic Product expanding by 12.9 percent last year and 14.8 percent in the first half of 2003 under continued low inflation.
However, the economy is still reeling from the steep post-Soviet decline of the early 1990s, with unemployment and poverty maintaining a very high rate. The country’s GDP-per-capita level of just over $800 is quite modest by world standards and is far below the same indicators of Eastern European nations, including Bulgaria, that have been seeking to join the EU.
Armenia, according to its leaders, will also eventually aspire to EU membership. As one top official put it recently, it is a “distant but obvious aim” of Armenian foreign policy. Kocharian’s remarks, made at the close of a Bulgarian-Armenian business forum in Sofia, appeared to confirm that.
Kocharian used the occasion to call for increased foreign investment into Armenia which he said “has the most liberal trade regime in the entire post-Soviet territory.” “This is the opinion of authoritative international organizations,” he was reported to add, in an apparent reference to annual economic surveys by “The Wall Street Journal” and a conservative U.S. think-tank.
Kocharian’s trip to Bulgaria also involved talks with Bulgarian President Georgy Parvanov and other senior officials. The talks’ agenda was reportedly topped by bilateral trade which has grown considerably in recent years but was still a modest $50 million in 2002.
Also discussed was the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh. Bulgaria next year will take over the rotating presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe whose so-called Minsk Group has been spearheading international efforts to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute.
“On the moment the talks are frozen, but Bulgaria will assume the OSCE presidency after the [October presidential] elections in Azerbaijan," Agence France Presse quoted Kocharian as telling a press conference in Sofia. “Maybe we can make some progress on this issue under the Bulgarian leadership.”