Armenia’s worst recession since the early 1990s has come to an end, a senior government official claimed on Monday, citing official statistics that show the Armenian economy growing last month for the first time in over a year.
According to preliminary data released by the National Statistical Service (NSS), Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 2.4 percent year on year in January after shrinking by 14.4 percent in 2009.
The reported growth was twice faster than the one forecast by the Armenian government for 2010. A senior official from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said last week that the full-year growth rate may well reach 2 percent.
The NSS data show that a 6.5 percent rise in industrial output was the main driving force behind the unfolding recovery. That seems to have primarily resulted from rallying international prices of copper and other non-ferrous metals, Armenia’s main export item. Armenian exports jumped by 57.5 percent to almost $54 million in January.
Armenia’s macroeconomic performance was also positively affected by a 3 percent growth in agriculture reported by the NSS. By contrast, the construction sector, which has born the brunt of the recession, contracted by about 11 percent during the same period.
Trade and Economic Development Minister Nerses Yeritsian portrayed the latest macroeconomic data as a clear indication that the economic crisis in the country is over. “And I want to assure you that we have come of out that crisis well,” he told journalists.
But Hrant Bagratian, an economist and former prime minister affiliated with the opposition Armenian National Congress, brushed aside the claim, alleging that the NSS figures are a fraud. “The main reason for the January growth is that the situation was really bad in January last year,” he said at the same time.
“Does having the worst indicators in the Commonwealth of Independent States mean coming out of the crisis well?” Bagratian told RFE/RL. “These guys must simply be put on trial.”
In Yeritsian words, the recovery is facilitated by what he described as substantial capital investments that have been made in public infrastructures in the last two years. “They could not have failed to have an impact on the diversification of the economy and this growth figure,” he said.
Yeritsian also insisted that financial assistance provided by the government to the crisis-hit construction industry has not been a waste of money. “The government measures against the construction decline have been limited,” he said. “The government has never even tried to fully make up for the construction decline.”
Finance Minister Tigran Davtian likewise asserted in late December that Armenia is emerging from the recession with minimal losses. Davtian downplayed the sharp GDP drop which has increased unemployment and poverty in the country.
According to World Bank estimates, the number of Armenians living below the official poverty line rose by 90,000 to make up 28.4 percent of the population in the first half of 2009.