Armenia’s new government welcomed the signing on Thursday of a provisional free-trade agreement between Iran and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), saying that it should boost Armenian-Iranian trade.
The deal signed in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana will be valid for the next three years. It will abolish or lower import duties in Iran’s trade with Russia, Armenia and three other ex-Soviet states making up the trade bloc. The signatories pledged to work out a permanent free-trade arrangement during the three-year period.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said the terms of the deal “fully” reflect Armenia’s national interests. “We hope that it will stimulate our commercial ties [with Iran,]” he told reporters. “It opens up opportunities. We hope to utilize those opportunities in full.”
Pashinian and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stressed the significance of the trade accord when they spoke by phone at the weekend.
Minister for Economic Development Artsvik Minasian said, for his part, that the deal also puts Armenia in a better position to serve as a transit route for commercial operations between Iran and other EEU member states. “This is also an opportunity to manufacture some products in the Meghri free-trade zone,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The minister referred to a tax haven which was set up near Meghri, an Armenian town on the Iranian border, last December. Businesses operating there are exempt from virtually all types of taxes. They are allowed to engage in not only manufacturing but also trade, cargo transport and even tourism.
Minasian’s predecessor, Suren Karayan, predicted at the time that between 50 and 70 firms will set up shop in the zone in the coming years. He said their combined output will likely increase Armenia’s exports by around $250 million annually.
According to official Armenian statistics, Armenian-Iranian trade stood at a modest $263 million last year. Armenian exports to Iran accounted for only about one-third of that turnover. Armenian manufacturers have long complained that the Islamic Republic’sprotectionist policies severely limit their access to the Iranian market.
The Astana agreement was signed just days after the United States decided to re-impose economic sanctions on Tehran after controversially pulling out of a 2015 international agreement on the Iranian nuclear program.
Minasian refused to be drawn on the possible impact of the U.S. move on Iranian-Armenian commercial ties. “We have not yet looked into that issue,” he said.