Armenia is encouraging businesspeople in neighboring Iran to use its territory for shipping commercial freight to and from Europe.
Senior officials from Armenia’s Ministry of Transport and Communications and Russian-managed rail network promoted this transit route on Wednesday at a meeting with a group of visiting Iranian entrepreneurs. They presented financial and logistical details of the proposed corridor, which would also pass through Georgia and the Black Sea.
“This mode of transport is beneficial for entrepreneurs in terms of both costs and saving time,” Dmitry Gvozdev, a senior railway executive, said at the meeting. “All cargos will be covered by insurance.”
The meeting came one week after Armenian Transport Minister Vahan Martirosian and the chief executive of the Armenian railway, Sergey Valko, discussed the matter with Iran’s ambassador in Yerevan, Seyed Kazem Sajjad. According to Martirosian’s press service, Sajjad assured them that he will recommend the “fairly efficient” transit option to relevant Iranian companies.
President Serzh Sarkisian likewise promoted the trade route during his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani’s official visit to Yerevan in late December. Sarkisian said that landlocked Armenia can serve as Iran’s “shortest and safest” commercial conduit to Europe.
Rouhani sounded supportive of the idea, saying that Armenia and Iran should connect Persian Gulf and Black Sea ports with a new transport corridor.
Under the transit project championed by the Armenian government, Iranian cargos would be transported to Yeraskh, a railway station about 50 kilometers southeast of Yerevan, by trucks and then delivered to the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti by rail.
Iran, which has mainly used Turkey’s territory for trade with Europe until now, reportedly carried out a test shipment of two freight containers from Germany via Armenia in November.
“The containers were shipped from Hamburg in a relatively shorter journey, compared to the Turkish route,” Gholamhossein Amiri, secretary of the International Transport Association of Iran, told the Mehr news agency at the time.
“In the past couple of years, we have had problems on the Turkish side of the border regarding transport of cargo from Europe. This prompted us to start negotiations with several other countries for alternative routes,” said Amiri.
He cited a dispute with the Turkish customs service and growing instability in Turkey’s eastern regions bordering Iran.
The Armenian government hopes that the Armenian transit route will become more attractive to Iranian firms after it completes the ongoing reconstruction of Armenia’s main highways stretching more than 550 kilometers to Georgia and Iran.
In 2015, the government borrowed $150 million from the Kazakhstan-based Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) to rebuild a 20-kilometer road in southeastern Armenia leading to the Iranian border. Armenian officials say that alone will significantly shorten travel from Yeraskh to the border.
Most of the EDB loan is due to be spent on the construction of a 4-kilometer tunnel under an Armenian mountain pass situated over 2,500 meters above the sea level. The tortuous Kajaran pass is frequently closed to traffic in winter months because of snowstorms and ice.