President Serzh Sarkisian will not attend Tuesday’s summit of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan that was expected to complete Armenia’s accession to their Customs Union, it emerged on Monday.
Armenian officials involved in accession talks said earlier this month that Sarkisian will attend the summit in Minsk to sign an accession treaty with the union’s three member states. However, they unexpectedly announced on April 18 that this is unlikely to happen.
Outgoing Economy Minister Vahram Avanesian said a working group of officials from the Armenian government and the Russian-led trade alliance will meet on April 25 to take stock of membership talks held so far and submit relevant recommendations to the summit. The Russian, Belarusian and Kazakh presidents will then “decide what kind of an agreement should be prepared and possibly set a date for its signing,” he told a news conference.
Avanesian’s first deputy, Karine Minasian, clarified that the accession treaty could be signed after the three ex-Soviet states formally agree to turn their trade bloc into a Eurasian Economic Union. They are expected to sign a corresponding treaty in late May. Minasian said Armenia may thus join the Eurasian Union without getting to be a member of the Customs Union.
Sarkisian’s decision not to attend the Minsk summit came as a surprise. Speaking to journalists near Yerevan earlier on Monday, Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov indicated that the Armenian leader will fly to the Belarusian capital.
Official Yerevan gave no reasons for the president’s decision. News.am quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan as saying only that the Armenian government will continue to implement a “roadmap” to joining the Customs Union, which was agreed with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan last December.
Sokolov, who is also the co-chair of a Russian-Armenian intergovernmental commission on bilateral cooperation, praised the steps taken by Yerevan, saying that the roadmap has already been all but implemented. “The fulfilment of obligations on accession to the Customs Union is a cause for not only respect but also admiration,” he said.
Sokolov said nothing about the key issue in the accession process: significant trade preferences sought by Armenia. The Armenian side wants to exempt hundreds of imported goods, including foodstuffs, drugs, cars and construction materials, from considerably higher uniform customs duties enforced by the Customs Union member states. Analysts believe the cost of living in Armenia would rise significantly without these exemptions.
Avanesian expressed hope on April 18 that a list of such goods will be agreed upon by the working group on April 25. No agreements to that effect have been announced so far.