Official Yerevan announced on Thursday the impending start of formal negotiations that should lead to a far-reaching free-trade deal and a more liberal visa regime between Armenia and the European Union.
The announcement came after the eighth round of talks held by Armenian and EU officials in Brussels on an “association agreement” that will significantly upgrade Armenia’s relationship with the 27-nation bloc.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry reported further “substantial progress” towards the signing of such an agreement. It said that during the two-day talks the two sides increased from 19 to 22 the number of negotiating “chapters” concluded by them.
“The parties expressed confidence that within the framework of their next plenary meeting it will be possible to also open negotiations on sections of the association agreement relating to the creation of a deep and comprehensive free trade area (DCFTA) between Armenia and the EU,” the ministry said in a statement. That meeting will be held in Yerevan in late March, it said.
The DCFTA envisages not only mutual lifting of all trade barriers but also harmonization of Armenian economic laws and regulations with those existing in the EU.
The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, has made the start of the free-trade talks conditional on the elimination of a controversial mechanism for import valuation applied by Armenia’s customs service. It also wants Yerevan to stop discriminating against importers of alcoholic beverages.
Visiting Brussels in early December, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian told top EU officials that his government has complied with these preconditions and expects them to speed up the official launch of DCFTA negotiations.
The EU is already Armenia’s largest trading partner. Official Armenian statistics show trade with the EU rising by 21 percent to $1.46 billion and accounting for almost one-third of the country’s overall foreign trade in January-October 2011.
Another major component of the association agreement is the simplification of stringent visa requirements for Armenians planning to visit EU countries. The two sides are to sign a separate visa facilitation and “readmission” agreement as part of the EU’s Eastern Partnership program covering six former Soviet republics.
Late last month, the EU’s supreme decision-making body, the Council, gave the formal green light for visa facilitation talks with Yerevan. According to the Foreign Ministry statement, they will start at the end of February.