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By Atom Markarian
U.S. Ambassador John Evans used on Friday citations from the works of Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union and a diehard enemy of capitalism, to present a U.S.-funded handbook for doing business in Armenia.

The brochure, jointly put together by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Armenian government, offers potential investors detailed advice on launching and running small and medium-sized companies. It contains the full list of steps which need to be taken for their registration as well as information about various government regulations and licensing requirements.

“One of the greatest constraints that entrepreneurs have faced in Armenia is a lack of information on government regulation and procedures,” Evans said in a speech at the official presentation of the illustrated book. “But as Lenin said, ‘Knowledge is power’. And I believe that the entrepreneurs’ guide which is being unveiled today is going to empower entrepreneurs.”

Evans added that the development of small business is particularly important for a small country like Armenia. “We have high hopes for this guide,” he said in the presence of Laura Kennedy, a visiting senior official from the U.S. State Department. “We believe that it will really make a difference. I think Lenin also said, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’.”

“So with my apologies to Lenin, may I just say that we are very pleased with the success of this project,” the recently appointed envoy concluded, surprising the Armenian audience that had hardly heard positive references to the brutal Communist dictator since the Soviet collapse.

The USAID initiative was also praised by Rshtun Martirosian, the director of the National Center for the Development of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses, an Armenian government agency. He said the handbook will help new entrepreneurs save time and logistical expenses.

According to Martirosian, the sector has expanded dramatically in recent years and now accounts for almost 40 percent of Armenia’s Gross Domestic Product and tax revenues. He attributed that to an improved business environment and greater government attention to the sector. The government has simplified the registration and licensing requirements for private businesses in the past few years.

A recent survey by the World Bank found that enterprise registration in Armenia is usually carried out within 25 days and is no more expensive and time-consuming than in most Western economies. But it said the overall investment climate remains far from meeting Western standards due to endemic corruption and other problems with the rule of law.
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