President Serzh Sarkisian insisted on Friday that membership in the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan will be good for Armenia but again declined to elaborate on its economic benefits, saying that accession talks with the Russian-led bloc are not yet over.
Sarkisian sought to justify the lack of public information about those negotiations in televised remarks made during a visit to the Armenian Ministry of Environment Projection.
“I will certainly talk about the Customs Union in detail in the future because I don’t find it expedient to speak of all advantages and opportunities before the end of the negotiations,” he told senior ministry officials. “Once we finish the negotiations we will talk about the opportunities in great detail.”
“Obviously, various strata of the society could interpret my remarks differently and say that secret negotiations are being held,” continued Sarkisian. “They will then come out and say, ‘Who cares about our opinion?’ But I must repeat that there are no [ongoing] negotiations in the world whose details are discussed with all strata of the society.”
The Armenian leader added that his government will provide detailed explanations when the National Assembly debates a long list of legislative changes needed for joining a structure which Russia hopes to turn into a Eurasian Union of ex-Soviet states. The government reportedly plans to complete the accession process by next May. Dozens of Armenian laws are expected to be amended as a result.
The government has still not responded to critics’ claims that membership in the union would push up the cost of many goods imported to Armenia because of more protectionist trade policies adopted by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The three countries account, between them, for less than a quarter of Armenia’s foreign trade.
Some economists have also warned that Armenia risks losing hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue each year. They argue that the Armenian customs service will no longer be allowed to levy import duties from goods entering the country from Russia and the two other member states.
Speaking during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Armenia on Monday, Sarkisian hinted that his administration has secured preferential terms for the Armenian membership. But he did not elaborate.