By Atom Markarian
A senior Armenian government official ruled out Tuesday his country’s membership in a new Russian-led economic group of four former Soviet republics in the near future.
Industry Minister Karen Chshmaritian said Armenia can not sign up to an agreement on the creation of a “common economic space” comprising Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine because of its “international obligations.” “It will be possible to discuss Armenia’s accession to that free trade zone only after the four countries become members of the World Trade Organization,” he told reporters.
The agreement in question was signed during last month’s summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States held in the Ukrainian city of Yalta. It is expected to remove most of the economic and administrative barriers to trade across the huge geographical area. Some observers also see it as another indication of Russia’s ongoing efforts to reassert its influence across the former Soviet Union.
None of the signatories is a member of the WTO and some provisions of their free trade deal may contradict rules for global trade set by the powerful 145-nation body. Armenia secured its WTO membership last February after nearly ten years of difficult negotiations.
Chshmaritian touched on the subject following a meeting in Yerevan of an Armenian-Belarusian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation, of which he is the co-chairman. He spoke in response to his Belarusian opposite number Gennady Kurochkin’s remark that “there are absolutely no obstacles to Armenia’s accession to the agreement.” Chshmaritian stressed at the same time that the creation of the economic bloc will facilitate Armenia’s commercial ties with all four countries.
The two officials announced that they worked out specific measures to boost Armenian-Belarusian economic cooperation that has declined since the Soviet collapse.