The European Union and Armenia began on Monday official negotiations on a new deal which is expected to contain many political and economic provisions of the Association Agreement nearly signed by them two years ago.
“We aim for a comprehensive framework agreement covering political, economic and sectoral cooperation and taking into account Armenia's more recent commitments,” the EU’s foreign and security policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said at the start of the talks in Brussels.
“Our shared common values and strong commitment to democracy, human rights, rule of law will be at the basis of the new agreement,” she added, according to a statement released by the EU’s executive body, the European Commission.
Mogherini listed trade, investments, energy and transport among the areas of closer EU-Armenia cooperation to be covered by the accord. Those sectors were identified during a “scoping exercise” completed by the two sides in March.
Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, who headed the Armenian delegation at the opening session of the talks, said Armenia is “determined to further develop and strengthen comprehensive cooperation in all areas of mutual interest.” Nalbandian pointed to President Serzh Sarkisian’s recent remark that “the Armenian nation is an inseparable part of the European civilization.”
“We look forward to intensify effective cooperation in a large number of areas, such as education, science, research and innovation, air transportation and others,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry quoted him as saying.
The planned deal will have no free trade-related clauses that were a key element of the would-be Association Agreement. Sarkisian made the signing of that agreement impossible when he unexpectedly decided in September 2013 to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The volte-face is thought to have resulted from strong Russian pressure exerted on Yerevan.
Armenian and EU officials have said that other political and economic provisions of the Association Agreement not contradicting Armenia’s membership in the EEU will be incorporated into the planned deal. In Mogherini’s words, the deal should help to “definitively turn the page following uncertainties created in 2013.”
Armenia has already enjoyed a preferential trade regime with the EU for the past several years. Under its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP+), the EU collects no import duties from 3,300 types of Armenian products and applies reduced tariffs to 3,900 other goods imported from the South Caucasus state. The 28-nation bloc extended this arrangement even after the Armenian entry into the EEU.
The EU remains Armenia’s leading trading partner, accounting, according to Armenian government data, for about 26 percent of its overall foreign trade in January-October 2015.
Nalbandian on Monday urged the EU to also launch a “dialogue” with Yerevan on the eventual lifting of its visa requirements for Armenian citizens travelling to Europe. The EU expressed readiness for visa liberalization in a joint declaration with Armenia and several other ex-Soviet states adopted at a May 2015 summit in Riga.
The declaration says that such a process is contingent on the “full implementation” of an EU-Armenia agreement on “readmission” of illegal immigrants. The agreement was signed in April 2013 shortly after the EU eased some of its stringent visa rules for Armenians.
Armenia unilaterally abolished its visa regime for citizens of the EU member states three years ago.