The absence of common borders with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan is not the not only reason for Armenia’s reluctance to join the Russian-led customs union of the three former Soviet republics, according to Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian.
In an interview with the Russian newspaper “Moskovskie Novosti” published on Monday, Sarkisian argued that Armenia has a more liberal trade regime and lacks vast natural resources.
“Another specificity of Armenia is that the structure of the Armenian economy is very different from that of the economies of the Customs Union’s countries that have substantial deposits of energy resources and pursue a policy of supporting domestic manufacturers through quite high customs duties,” he said. “On the whole, the level of such duties in the Customs Union is twice higher than those levied in Armenia.”
“Armenia was one of the first CIS countries to join the World Trade Organization, and this too gives certain specificity to our relations with the Customs Union. Therefore, we need to find a formula and the most effective instruments of our interaction with the Customs Union,” added Sarkisian.
Moscow has clearly been pressing Yerevan to join the trade bloc which President Vladimir Putin hopes will eventually grow into a closely-knit Eurasian Union of former Soviet republics. Putin and President Serzh Sarkisian repeatedly discussed the matter during talks held last year. They agreed in August to set up a Russian-Armenian task force that will explore ways of Armenia’s possible involvement in the Customs Union.
“Moskovskie Novosti” asked Tigran Sarkisian whether that body has already submitted any proposals to the two governments. He skirted the question, speaking instead of the additional obstacles to Armenian membership of the Russian-led union.
In their public statements on the possibility of such entry, Armenian leaders have until now cited only the lack of common borders. The Russian head of the Eurasian Economic Commission, the Customs Union’s governing body, questioned this argument recently. Viktor Khristenko pointed to the existence of Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. “The Customs Union can definitely have an exclave,” he told the Moscow daily “Vedomosti” in mid-December in reference to Armenia.
Earlier in December, Khristenko visited Yerevan to discuss the matter with Serzh Sarkisian and Tigran Sarkisian.
The Armenian authorities have been more enthusiastic about negotiating a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the European Union. They hope to conclude ongoing DCFTA talks with the EU by November 2013. DCFTA will be part of a comprehensive Association Agreement which is also being negotiated at present.
The EU’s foreign and security policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said through a spokeswoman in late December that a possible Armenian entry into the Customs Union “would not be compatible” with the Association Agreement.