Artsvik Minasian, the newly appointed economy minister affiliated with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), on Thursday pledged to fight against monopolies widely regarded as a major hurdle to faster economic growth in Armenia.
He acknowledged at the same time that liberalizing lucrative sectors of the Armenian economy controlled by powerful individuals will not be an easy task.
“We are going to take actions in this direction that will be in tune with the European Union’s anti-trust legislation and will help to create market-based competitive conditions in our country,” Minasian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) after attending his first cabinet meeting in Yerevan.
Minasian said a set of “actions in this area that will be presented soon” but declined to elaborate on them. He also cautioned: “I want to remind you that Armenia’s economy … is now classified as a blockaded economy. In blockaded economies it is much easier to set up and solidify monopolies than to break them up.”
Some lucrative forms of business in Armenia, notably imports of fuel and foodstuffs, have long been controlled by large companies belonging to government-linked individuals. Economists say the resulting lack of competition in those sectors translates into disproportionately high prices.
A World Bank survey released in 2013 said that oligopolies control 20 percent of economic activity in Armenia, making it the most monopolized economy in the former Soviet Union. World Bank officials have repeatedly called on the Armenian government to create a level playing field for entrepreneurs in all sectors.
In a joint declaration on their power-sharing deal signed on Wednesday, Dashnaktsutyun and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) promised, among other things, to pursue an “active ant-trust policy.” Many analysts in Yerevan are skeptical about this pledge, saying that President Sarkisian has long been relying on influential “oligarchs” for political support and will hardly agree to act against them.
As recently as on February 3, Minasian’s predecessor as economy minister, Karen Chshmaritian, rationalized the existence of business monopolies in the country. “The government has not fought and will not fight against monopolies,” Chshmaritian said. “Our legislation and policies are aimed instead at tackling abuse of monopolist positions.”