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A senior U.S. official encouraged Armenian businesspeople to take greater advantage of Armenia’s mostly tariff-free access to the U.S. market during a visit to Yerevan on Wednesday.

Assistant Trade Representative Ed Gresser advised them on the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) at a meeting organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia (AmCham) and the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan.

Armenia is among 129 countries and territories included in the GSP program, which fully or partly exempts many goods manufactured by them from U.S import duties. Despite these trade preferences, Armenian exports to the United States have been quite modest to date.

According to official statistics, Armenian companies exported only about $39 million worth of goods -- mostly aluminum foil, jewelry items and some foodstuffs -- to the U.S. last year. Those exported jumped by 62 percent year on year, to almost $35 million, in the first seven months of 2017.Sixty percent of them were covered by the GSP.

Gresser said that the preferential trade regime gives Armenian exporters a significant competitive edge in the United States. “No country in the European Union is eligible for GSP,” he said. “Russia is not in the GSP system, China is not in the GSP system, Iran is not in the GSP system.”

“So when buyers are choosing between Armenia products and those of some neighboring countries or those of some very large exporters, the savings GSP offers can be a pretty compelling argument for buying the Armenian product,” argued the U.S. official.

Armenia is already the world’s fourth largest exporter of cherry jam to the U.S., he said.

“One of my top priorities as ambassador for the last two years has been to improve economic ties and trade between Armenia and the United States,” Richard Mills, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, told reporters after the AmCham meeting. “That’s why I am very happy to be welcoming to Yerevan this week two senior members from the United States Trade Representative’s office.”

“These two visitors are here to talk about the potential for expanding Armenia’s business community’s use of the Generalized System of Preferences that the United States has in place,” he said.

The U.E. Embassy and the Armenian Ministry of Economy already organized a seminar in March 2016 for Armenian manufacturing firms interested in capitalizing on the GSP. Another senior official from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) was on hand to present business opportunities stemming from the trade scheme and legal procedures for qualifying for it.

Gresser met on Tuesday with Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and Deputy Economy Minister Garegin Melkonian. Official Armenian sources said the talks focused not only on GSP-related issues but also broader commercial ties between the two nations. In particular, the two sides discussed preparations for a second session of the U.S.-Armenia Trade and Investment Council.

The council was set up in line with the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) signed by U.S. and Armenian officials in Washington in May 2015. It is tasked with addressing obstacles to bilateral trade.

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