The European Union has officially begun negotiating with Armenia on a far-reaching free trade agreement that will significantly deepen the South Caucasus country’s ties with the 27-nation bloc.
The first round of negotiations between officials from the Armenian government and the EU’s executive body, the European Commission, on the Deep and Comprehensive free Trade Area (DCFTA) ended in Brussels late on Wednesday.
Armenia’s trade representative to the EU, Varos Simonian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the two sides agreed to set up 14 working groups that will focus on concrete “chapters” of a future agreement on the creation of the DCFTA. The agreement will contain 15 such chapters, he said.
Simonian added that the next round of talks will take place at the EU headquarters in early October. “The European side will present draft texts on some chapters of the agreement,” he said, speaking by phone from Brussels.
The DCFTA deal will be a key element of an Armenia-EU “association agreement” that has been discussed by the two sides for almost two years. The association agreement in turn stems from the EU’s Eastern Partnership program that offers six former Soviet republics the prospect of deeper integration with the bloc in return for political and economic reforms.
The EU member states gave the final green light to the free trade talks with Yerevan on in February. Their launch was delayed last year because of EU objections to a controversial mechanism for import valuation and taxation of imported alcoholic beverages applied by Armenia’s customs service. The Armenian government scrambled to meet relevant preconditions set by the European Commission.
Luc Devigne, a senior official from the Commission’s Directorate General for Trade, said in Yerevan late last month that the government still needs to do “a lot” to secure a permanent free trade regime with the world’s largest and most affluent single market. He spoke to journalists after a regular session of an Armenia-EU body dealing with commercial affairs.
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 has been Armenia’s leading trading partner and main export market for the past decade. According to official Armenian statistics, the total volume of Armenia’s trade with EU countries rose by 16.3 percent to about $1.8 billion last year.