By Emil Danielyan
Armenia’s external trade rose by 30 percent to nearly $2 billion last year on the back of growing commercial links with Europe, the United States and Israel, according to government statistics released on Tuesday.
Figures from the National Statistical Service show that the European Union remains the country’s number one trading partner, accounting for almost one third of its external turnover. Armenia’s trade with EU countries shot up by about 40 percent in 2003. An even higher hike of 60 percent was registered in its commercial exchange with the U.S. which hit $158 million.
Trade with Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States saw a more modest increase of 9.6 percent that further reduced the former Soviet republics’ share in Armenia’s import and export operations. It made up only 22.4 percent of their overall volume.
The surge in economic exchange with the outside world meant a further 22.4 percent increase in Armenia’s extremely unfavorable trade deficit measured in absolute terms. However, the imbalance decreased in relative terms, with the growth in exports outpacing that in imports for the fourth consecutive year.
The official data show the Armenian exports rising by 34 percent to a record-high level of $678 million, or just over half of the 2003 net imports. The exports were worth less than a third of the imports in the 1990s. Their rapid increase is seen as vital for the country’s long-term economic growth prospects.
Precious metals and stones, notably cut diamonds, remain the country’s main export. About $250 million worth of them were sold abroad last year. Other major export items were non-ferrous metals ($90 million), food products ($72 million), minerals ($47 million) and textiles ($30 million).
The gem diamonds have turned Israel into another leading trading partner of Armenia. The volume of bilateral trade jumped by 55 percent to $256 million in 2003. The government figures highlight the growing presence of Israeli diamond dealers, among them billionaire Lev Leviev, in the Armenian diamond-processing industry that has expanded considerably in recent years.
Armenia’s trade with neighboring Iran, by contrast, fell by 5.4 percent to $89 million, continuing a downward trend of the last several years. Iran, which used to be one of Armenia’s main economic partners, now accounts for less than 5 percent of its external economic activity.