By Liz Fuller and Harry Tamrazian
The U.S. House of Representatives passed on 20 November legislation that would upgrade Armenia's status as a trading partner of the U.S. by granting it permanent normal trade relations status. That status would entail lower tariffs on Armenian imports to the U.S. and greater access to U.S. government credit facilities on a permanent basis. The U.S. Senate will consider the bill next week.
The bill was sponsored by Congressmen Joe Knollenberg with Frank Pallone. The two men are co-chairmen of the Armenian Caucus. Knollenberg said on 20 November after the bill was passed by some 110 congressmen that "Armenia's accession to the World Trade Organization earlier this year was a momentous event for this proud country that has worked hard to enact free-market reforms within a stable democratic framework. However, the full benefits of accession will not be realized unless permanent normal trade status is granted to Armenia. Passing this bill will result in tangible benefits for Armenia and an even stronger relationship between our two countries. I encourage the Senate to pass this bill quickly and I look forward to its signing."
Pallone for his part said he hopes the bill "will help to alleviate the pressure on Armenia by the decade-old dual blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan." The World Bank estimates that that blockade costs Armenia some $720 million every year.
Commenting on the passage of the bill, Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Ruben Shugharian told RFE/RL on 21 November that it has not only economic but political significance. "Without this bill, our relations with the U.S. cannot be deep and comprehensive. It is the second most important step for Armenia after WTO membership," Shugarian said. Once the bill has been passed, Armenia will have the opportunity to think about a free trade regime with the United States. "Our goal is to get the most liberal trade regime with the United States," Shugarian said. He said the chances are high that the bill will pass also the U.S. Senate. Shugharian expressed gratitude to U.S. congressional leaders as well as to the bill's co-sponsors, Congressmen Knollenberg and Pallone.