The European Union has warned Armenia to ensure that its efforts to integrate with the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan do not run counter to its impending Association Agreement with the EU.
A spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele reiterated late on Wednesday that membership of the Russian-led trade bloc would be incompatible with a key component of that agreement, the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). The official, Peter Stano, said Brussels will therefore be closely monitoring fresh arrangements between Yerevan and the customs union.
“Of course, generally it’s up to Armenia to choose the way and format of its economic cooperation with any other partners, including the Russian Federation and the Customs Union,” Stano told RFE/RL. “But I have to remind you that the Armenian government has engaged in negotiations with the European Union about the DCFTA and that will be hopefully finalized before the [EU’s] Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius this November.”
“So Armenia should make sure that any arrangements with any other trade partners are fully compatible with these DCFTA provisions,” he said.
“With its single external tariff system and single trade policy, the customs union does not allow Armenia to have its own control over the tariffs, and that means it would be technically incompatible with the application of the Association Agreement, including the DCFTA,” Stano added, explaining the official EU stance.
While voicing support for “integration processes” in the former Soviet Union, the Armenian government has not sought, at least until now, to join the customs union, pushing for the far-reaching association accord with the EU instead.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian called this policy into question during talks with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev held late last week. Sarkisian said that Yerevan and the union’s executive body have agreed to “urgently” draw up a fresh memorandum on Armenia’s “integration” into what Moscow hopes will form the backbone of a future Eurasian Union of ex-Soviet states.
The Russian ambassador to Armenia, Ivan Volynkin, said afterwards that Armenian membership in the customs union is one of the options discussed by the two sides. An Armenian government spokesman implied, however, that Yerevan remains interested in other arrangements falling short of full membership. That presumably includes an observer status in the union.
“In principle, these [alternative] arrangements are not technically incompatible as such,” said Stano. “But we need to fully study the details and individual provisions to see if they are compatible [with the DCFTA.]”
The EU official added that both Armenia and Ukraine, another country facing apparent Russian pressure to join the union, realize “how far they can go in order not to be in contradiction with either what they have negotiated already with the EU or are negotiating at present.”