Armenia hopes to deepen economic ties with the European Union through a new agreement despite joining a Russian-led trade alliance of ex-Soviet states, Economy Minister Karen Chshmaritian said on Tuesday.
“We hope that after working out a certain format we can sign an agreement on developing further economic cooperation,” Chshmaritian told reporters, commenting on his visit to Brussels last week.
Chshmaritian and members of an Armenian government delegation headed by him visited the EU headquarters to meet with senior EU officials. They discussed possible alternatives to a far-reaching Association Agreement which Yerevan was due to sign with the EU until President Serzh Sarkisian unexpectedly decided last year to make his country part of the Eurasian Economic Union.
The Brussels talks coincided with an announcement that the EU will allocate up to 170 million euros ($212 million) over the next years to support the Armenian private sector and assist in judicial reforms promised by the authorities in Yerevan. The EU’s new European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn portrayed the promised aid as further proof of the EU’s commitment to “very close cooperation” with Armenia.
Chshmaritian said that his talks with Hahn and officials in Brussels focused on trade and economic issues. “The meeting with the commissioner, the ensuing exchange of thoughts and an [EU-Armenia] subcommittee meeting which was chaired by my first deputy led us to believe that the European side -- and the Armenian side even more so -- is prepared for continued cooperation,” he declined said.
The minister declined to elaborate on possible formats of that cooperation. He said only that it must not run counter to Armenia’s membership commitments to the EEU.
A spokesman for Hahn’s predecessor Stefan Fuele told RFE/RL last month that Yerevan should detail its “new obligations stemming from membership” in the ex-Soviet bloc before it can negotiate new accords with the EU. The EU has yet to receive such information, the official said.
Garegin Melkonian, Chshmaritian’s first deputy, said in that regard: “The dominant approach [in Brussels] was that they should not wait for us and we should not wait for them either. Each side should do its internal work and identify areas where it believes an EU-Armenia economic agenda can be formed and propose a legal framework for that.”
The ill-fated Association Agreement envisaged the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) and committed Armenia to harmonizing its economic laws and regulations with those adopted in the EU.
The EU abandoned the planned agreement late last year on the grounds that the DCFTA is “not compatible” with Armenia’s membership in the trade bloc currently comprising Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. At the same time, it extended its preferential trade regime for Armenian exports to the EU.
Under its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP+), the EU collects no duties from 3,300 types of products imported from Armenia and applies reduced tariffs to 3,900 other goods.