By Atom Markarian
Armenia’s trade with the European Union registered a further increase in the course of last year at the expense of dwindling commercial ties with Russia and other former Soviet republics, according the latest government data.
Figures released by the National Statistical Service show that the 25 EU countries accounted for 36.5 percent of Armenia’s external trade that exceeded $2 billion in 2004. Russia’s share in it was only 12.5 percent. It was twice as higher a few years ago.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed concern at the downward trend during talks with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian last August.
Russian and Armenian officials admit that the absence of rail connection is a serious impediment to the development of economic ties between their nations that have no common border. They hope that the upcoming launch of a rail ferry service between Russian and Georgian Black Sea ports will reduce high transportation costs and thereby reverse the trend.
The volume of Russian-Armenian trade fell by 13 percent in 2004. By contrast, the Armenia-EU commercial exchange was 10 percent up from the 2003 level.
The highest increase, 50 percent, was registered in Armenia’s trade with neighboring Georgia. Senior Armenian officials said recently that Georgian-Armenian commercial ties have markedly improved since the November 2003 “revolution of roses” in Tbilisi that brought a team of young Western-leaning reformers to power. They praised the administration of President Mikhail Saakashvili for repairing a Georgian highway leading to the Armenian border and cracking down on the notoriously corrupt traffic police that routinely extorted bribes from Armenian businessmen.
This also appears to have facilitated Armenia’s trade with Turkey which is carried out through Georgian territory. The National Statistical Service says it totaled $34.5 million during the first 11 months of last year.
But a senior member of the Turkish-Armenian Business Council (TABC), a private pressure group, puts the figure at $120 million. In an interview with an Azerbaijani newspaper published this week, Noyan Soyak renewed TABC calls for Ankara to reopen the Turkish-Armenian border, saying that the move would raise bilateral trade to as much as $500 million a year.