Armenia’s decision to join the Russian-led Customs Union will not have an adverse impact on relations with neighboring Georgia, President Serzh Sarkisian and his visiting Georgian counterpart Giorgi Margvelashvili said after talks on Thursday.
Margvelashvili met Sarkisian as he made his first official visit to Yerevan since succeeding Mikheil Saakashvili as Georgia’s president last November.
Implications of Armenia’s impeding membership of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan were apparently high on the agenda of the talks. Sarkisian said he briefed Margvelashvili on reasons for his decision last August to seek such membership. He seemed to single out the economic dimension of joining a trade bloc which Moscow plans to transform into a Eurasian Union next year.
“We both are of the opinion that the choices of our countries related to our economic development must never impede our economic cooperation,” Sarkisian told a joint news conference. “To put it more simply, we believe that Armenia’s decision to join the Customs Union and Georgia’s decision to sign a free-trade agreement with the European Union will not hamper our economic relations.”
“On the contrary, these decisions are opening up new opportunities for our businesspeople,” he said, adding that a Georgian-Armenian economic task force will hold its first meeting in Yerevan next month.
“We have different political vectors but identical positions on developing our ties,” Margvelashvili said, for his part. “Changes will only be positive. We will do everything to deepen and develop our relations.”
Unlike Armenia, Georgia finalized last November an ambitious Association Agreement with the EU envisaging the creation of a “deep and comprehensive free trade area.” The Georgian government hopes that it will be signed later this year.
Yerevan was on course to conclude a similar agreement with the EU as recently as last August. Sarkisian precluded its initialing at an EU summit in November with his last-minute volte-face.
Membership of the Customs Union means that Armenia will not be able to negotiate bilateral free-trade deals with any country, including Georgia. Moreover, it will have to adopt the union’s significantly higher import duties and enforce them in Georgian-Armenian trade.