Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian urged the European Union on Monday to accelerate the official launch of negotiations on a far-reaching free trade deal with Armenia that has been hampered by Yerevan’s controversial taxation rules and practices.
Making his fourth visit to Brussels in less than a year, Sarkisian also reaffirmed the Armenian government’s ambitious reform agenda which he said will enable his country to “move forward along the European path.”
“We are implementing a program of serious and ambitious reforms,” the government’s press office quoted him as telling the EU’s Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele.
Sarkisian detailed those reforms during his earlier visits to Brussels. He said they cover 33 specific areas of state policy, including human rights protection, judicial reform, tax and customs administration as well as food safety.
“We expect your support for accelerating negotiations over an agreement on the creation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA),” he told Fuele on Monday.
The DCFTA is a key element of an “association agreement” offered to Armenia as part of the EU’s Eastern Partnership program covering six ex-Soviet states. It envisages not only mutual lifting of customs duties but also harmonization of Armenia’s economic laws and regulations with those existing in the EU.
Despite reporting major progress in the more than yearlong association talks on with Armenia, the EU has still not set a date for the start of separate DCFTA negotiations. Its top executive body, the European Commission, wants Yerevan to abolish first the discretionary authority of the Armenian customs service to ignore payment invoices submitted by importers and determine the market value of imported good in accordance with its own “control pricelists.”
The commission is also seeking changes in the collection of excise duties from domestic and imported alcohol. It says the existing tax rates and procedures discriminate against importers of alcoholic beverages.
Gunnar Wiegand, head of a European Commission team negotiating with Yerevan, said in late October that the Armenian side pledged to address the EU concerns by the end of this year. Speaking after talks with Sarkisian, Wiegand said that would pave the way for the start of the DCFTA talks.
Sarkisian’s government has yet to announce corresponding changes to Armenian legislation regulating customs valuation and excise taxation.
According to a statement issued by the government’s press office, Fuele said the reforms initiated by the Armenian premier bode well for the DCFTA. The statement did not elaborate.
Official Armenian statistics show trade with the EU rising by 21 percent to $1.46 billion and accounting for almost one-third of Armenia’s overall commercial exchange in the first ten months of this year.