Armenia will have to renegotiate the terms of its membership in the World Trade Organization after joining Russia’s Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, a high-ranking Russian government official reportedly warned on Monday.
“If Armenia successfully joins our format, signs an [accession] treaty and it is ratified, Armenia will have to open negotiations with the WTO on compensations,” First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said, according to the Interfax news agency.
Shuvalov argued that Armenia will have to adopt the Russian-led bloc’s uniform import duties that are considerably higher than its existing trade tariffs that have not changed ever since the South Caucasus state joined the WTO in 2003.
“That (the new trade regime) will differ from the obligations which it had assumed within the WTO framework,” Shuvalov told reporters in Sochi. “Since the situation will change for Armenia’s trading partners Armenia will need to start negotiating with them under a WTO procedure.”
Russian officials have until now not warned of potential problems between Armenia and WTO resulting from Customs Unions membership. Armenian leaders, for their part, have ruled out such a possibility.
Shuvalov spoke in the Russian Black Sea city after attending a meeting of the executive body of the trade bloc which is currently being transformed into the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The meeting discussed, among other things, the terms of Armenia’s accession to the EEU which President Serzh Sarkisian wants to expedite as soon as possible.
“We discussed today concrete issues that need to be sorted out,” the Russian vice-premier said. He added that they are likely to be agreed upon before a July 1 deadline for the drafting of Yerevan’s accession treaty with the bloc.
The deadline was set by the presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan at their most recent summit held on May 29. Sarkisian also attended it.
Neither Shuvalov nor Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who arrived in Yerevan late on Sunday, clarified just when that treaty will be signed. Lavrov and his Armenian counterpart, Edward Nalbandian, discussed the matter on Monday but mentioned it in passing at a joint news conference.
“We looked through issues of Armenia joining the process of Eurasian integration. Russia actively supports that,” said Lavrov.
The issue was also on the agenda of Lavrov’s talks with President Sarkisian held later in the day. Sarkisian’s office quoted the Russian minister as expressing hope that “good news will be received from Sochi today.” It gave no further details.