Armenia and the European Union are negotiating on a new far-reaching accord that would contain many political and economic provisions of their ill-fated draft Association Agreement, a senior Armenian official said on Tuesday.
“If all goes well, Armenia will sign a new treaty with the EU in the near future,” First Deputy Economy Minister Garegin Melkonian told the Armenpress news agency in an interview. He said it would serve as a substitute for the Association Agreement and not contradict Yerevan’s membership obligations to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
“After clarifying areas of cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union it has become possible for Armenia to also regulate ties with the EU, which should lead to a new legal format of Armenia-EU cooperation,” explained Melkonian.
Armenian and EU officials completed three-year negotiations on the Association Agreement in July 2013 shortly before President Serzh Sarkisian announced his unexpected decision to make his country part of the Russian-led alliance of ex-Soviet states. The EU responded by abandoning the agreement, which envisaged enhanced political partnership and the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with Armenia. It rejected an Armenian compromise proposal to sign only the much smaller political segment of the deal.
In Melkonian’s words, Yerevan and Brussels began exploring this summer the possibility of an alternative legal framework for closer Armenia-EU relations, which remain a major declared priority of the Sarkisian administration. He said that in their preliminary talks held since then they have all but identified concrete areas that would be covered by the new accord. Those include not only political elements of the Association Agreement but also DCFTA-related economic provisions relating to trade, competition, intellectual property and food safety, revealed the official.
Melkonian said that this specifically means that Armenia would “maximally adhere to the negotiated norms of the Association Agreement and the DCFTA … that do not contradict our membership in the EEU.” He also said that senior officials from the EU’s executive body, the European Commission, plan to visit Yerevan in February for more substantive talks on the matter.
The head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, Traian Hristea, said last week that the two sides are now working on a “new legal basis” for their relationship but gave no details. Hristea also said that Brussels will encourage the Armenian side to continue its participation in the EU’s Eastern Partnership program for six-Soviet states. He emphasized the fact that the EU remains Armenia’s leading trading partner.
According to Armenian government statistics, EU member states accounted for 27 percent of Armenia’s foreign trade in the first ten months of 2014, compared with Russia’s 23.3 percent share in the total.
The DCFTA committed the two sides to lifting virtually all import duties in bilateral trade. In return for the tariff-access to the world’s biggest and most affluent single market, Armenia would have to bring most of its economic laws and regulations into conformity with EU standards.
The EU found this comprehensive arrangement “not compatible” with membership in the trade bloc currently comprising Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Still, it decided late last year to extend its existing preferential trade regime for Armenia. Under its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP+), the EU collects no duties from 3,300 types of products imported from Armenia and applies reduced tariffs to 3,900 other goods.