Armenia’s economy should continue to grow this year despite the recent dramatic events that led to a change of the country’s government, a senior executive of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said on Friday.
Francis Malige, the EBRD’s managing director for Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, also expressed hope that the new Armenian government will implement far-reaching reforms promised by it.
“The Armenian economy is growing,” Malige told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in an interview. “We expect it to continue growing in the coming year.”
“I expect this to be a good year,” he said. “I see that there is enthusiasm, a good spirit among the people and that there is no disruption. Very often when you have a change of government, as, for example, was the case in Ukraine four years ago, you have a lot of disruptions in the economy as a consequence … I see no unrest, I see people continuing to have a willingness to invest.”
According to official statistics, the Armenian economy grew by 7.5 percent last year after stagnating in 2016. This robust growth continued practically unabated in the first quarter of this year.
Armenia was thrust into political turmoil in April when its longtime leader Serzh Sarkisian’s attempt to hold on to power triggered mass protests that lasted for weeks and resulted in his resignation. The protest leader, Nikol Pashinian, was elected prime minister on May 8, pledging to democratize the country, strengthen the rule of law and liberalize its economy.
Malige met with Pashinian earlier on Friday.He said he heard from the Armenian premier a “clear commitment to the right sort of economic policies.”
“We see a group of people who have spoken very clearly on their willingness to engage in a fight against corruption, de-monopolization of the economy,” Malige said of the new Armenian government. “These are good things.”
“As with any new government, actions speak louder than words. So let’s see what the actions are,” he added.
The EBRD director specifically stressed the importance of creating a level playing field for all businesses. “It’s no secret that there are a lot of monopolies in the Armenian economy,” he said. “We see de-monopolization as a strong lever for further economic growth.”
“We have discussed this problem with the previous government,” he went on. “We have generally received an answer that was along the lines of ‘yes, it’s important, we need to do something about it but it’s difficult.’”
Lucrative sectors of the Armenian economy such as commodity imports have long been monopolized by wealthy businesspeople close to Armenia’s previous governments. One of those tycoons was accused by a law-enforcement agency of large-scale evasion this week.
The EBRD has invested over $1.3 billion in about 165 projects in Armenia ever since it began operating in the country in 1992. More than 80 percent of those investments have gone into the private sector, largely taking the form of minority stake purchases in local and foreign companies.
Malige said the London-based multilateral institution is ready to finance more investment projects in Armenia. He noted in this regard that ethnic Armenian foreign entrepreneurs seem to be showing a greater interest in their ancestral homeland because of the recent revolution there.
“I’ve heard that there is a clear, renewed interest on the part of Armenian Diaspora investors who are keen to come and look back at Armenia as an investment destination,” said Malige. “I’m sure that they would be most welcome. We would like to work with them.”