By Armen Zakarian
Armenia has overcome the remaining major hurdles to its membership in the World Trade Organization and now expects to formally conclude its six-year accession talks by the end of next month, officials said on Thursday.
Tigran Davtian, the deputy minister of industry and economic development, told RFE/RL that an Armenian government delegation and officials from WTO member states found “compromise solutions” to all contentious issues during intensive talks in Geneva last week.
“We hope that the final meeting in late September will bring the membership negotiations to a successful end,” he said.
According to Davtian, the Geneva discussions centered on agricultural subsidies, customs procedures and protection of intellectual property in Armenia. He said agreements reached on those issue must now be promptly approved by the Armenian parliament and the Constitutional Court.
Armenian officials have been predicting an imminent WTO membership since 2000. But last-minute objections voiced by some of the 144 member countries ahead of important WTO meetings have always delayed Armenia’s accession to the powerful organization that sets rules of the global trade.
The WTO’s director general, Mike Moore, said in May that Armenia is likely to become a member of the organization before the end of this year. “I’m confident that with some pressure, some diplomacy and some flexibility, which we expect from all sides, we should be able to do it this year,” Moore told reporters at the end of a visit to Yerevan.
Davtian claimed that Armenia’s economic legislation, which is seen as one of the most liberal in the former Soviet Union, is now “by 95 percent in line with WTO standards.” But he admitted that the legal monopoly on all kinds of telecommunication services in Armenia enjoyed by the Greek-owned ArmenTel operator continues to draw a “very negative” reaction from the United States and the European Union.
Some local manufacturers have expressed their opposition to Yerevan’s rush to join WTO, arguing that opening markets to cheap foreign imports would hurt the Armenian economy. But Davtian again dismissed their concerns, saying that WTO membership will open new markets to their products and thereby shore up Armenia’s modest exports.