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A senior American diplomat has spoken of “considerable progress” in U.S.-Armenian economic ties, pointing to multimillion-dollar U.S. investments in Armenia’s energy and mining sectors.

The U.S. company ContourGlobal completed a year ago a $180 million acquisition of Armenia’s largest hydroelectric complex. It thus became the first Western firm to gain major assets in the Armenian energy sector.

ContourGlobal also pledged to invest $70 million in three plants making up the Vorotan Hydropower Cascade. Their combined capacity of over 400 megawatts nearly matches that of Armenia’s Metsamor nuclear power plant.

Another company, which is registered in the British Channel Islands and headquartered in Colorado, began building in August 2016 a gold mine that will significantly increase Armenian exports of gold. The company, Lydian International, had attracted most of $370 million in planned capital investments from U.S. equity firms. It plans to launch gold production at the Amulsar deposit in early 2018.

Richard Mills, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, singled out the two investment projects when he addressed members of the American Chamber of Commerce of Armenia (AmCham) on Wednesday evening.

“Since the primary focus of my economic priority was the deepening of direct business ties between the U.S. and Armenia, I am delighted to report that we have made considerable progress this past year,” Mills said in a speech.

“Investment from ContourGlobal and Lydian will amount to about half a billion dollars over the next few years,” he added.

Armenia - Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian (C) and U.S. Ambassador Richard Mills (R) visit the site of the future Amulsar gold mine, 15 August, 2015.

Armenia - Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian (C) and U.S. Ambassador Richard Mills (R) visit the site of the future Amulsar gold mine, 15 August, 2015.

Armenian environment protection groups are strongly opposed to the Amulsar project, saying that it poses a serious threat to the local ecosystem. They have also argued that the mountainous mining site is located less than 20 kilometers from Jermuk, the country’s most famous spa resort.

Both Lydian and the Armenian government have sought to dispel these concerns, saying that the company will use advanced technology that will minimize environmental risks.

Mills likewise pointed out that the mining project has been deemed “fully compliant” with environment protection standards set by the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The ambassador attended a ground-breaking ceremony at Amulsar in August. He said at the time that the new mining operation will “help strengthen the Armenian economy.”

The U.S. and Armenian governments moved to facilitate bilateral commerce when they signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in Washington in May 2015. In line with that deal, they set up the U.S.-Armenia Trade and Investment Council which held its first meeting later in 2015.

Mills said that the council should become “more active.” “Business forums are all to the good, but we must hold the working groups’ feet to the fire and ensure that they really tackle the existing and persistent barriers to trade and investment,” he told AmCham members. “If you or your companies are facing barriers to trade, tell us.”

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