An Argentine company running Yerevan’s Zvartnots international airport has moved closer to opening Armenia’s first tax-free economic zone which is meant to boost exports of agricultural and other products from the country.
The creation of such a zone within the Zvartnots complex is envisaged by a long-term airport management contract that was signed in 2001 by the Armenian government and the Corporacion America SA group of Eduardo Eurnekian, an Argentine billionaire of Armenian descent.
The Zvartnots operator plans to essentially complete a multimillion-dollar reconstruction of key airport facilities by the end of this year and is now stepping up preparations for the launch of the tax haven.
The government, for its part, drafted and pushed through parliament last month a law on free economic zones. The law defines economic entities that will be allowed to do business there and be exempt from taxes.
The government and Corporacion America signed on Thursday another agreement that paves the way for the opening of the zone. Officials present at the signing ceremony would not say when it will start functioning. Economy Minister Tigran Davtian said vaguely that this will happen “in the not-so-distant future.”
“I have very high expectations because this is a new opportunity for the development of our economy,” Davtian told journalists.
The tax-free zone is supposed to mainly cater for domestically grown agricultural produce exported abroad. It should have warehouses equipped with refrigerators, packaging facilities and a food safety laboratory.
Eurnekian, who has a warm rapport with Armenia’s current and former presidents, owns hundreds of hectares of vineyards and orchards in the Ararat Valley adjacent to the airport.
Davtian reaffirmed his government’s plans to help open two more such zones in the coming years. One of them is due to be located in the premises of an idling electronics plant in Yerevan.
Some local economic analysts question the wisdom of having such designated areas in Armenia. Bagrat Asatrian, a former Central Bank governor highly critical of the Armenian authorities, is one of them.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Asatrian said that the Zvartnots zone will bring no benefits to agriculture or other sectors of the Armenian economy. “In a country like ours … free economic zones will only serve the interests of a small number of people,” he claimed.