Arayik Harutiunian made the extraordinary appeal as hundreds of Armenian trucks remained stuck at the main Russian-Georgian border crossing due to Moscow’s decision to subject them to stricter sanitary checks. Dozens of other vehicles mainly carrying agricultural products were denied entry to Russia and had to return to Armenia in recent days. The tighter border controls come amid mounting tensions between Moscow and Yerevan.
“Now it is extremely important that Armenians in Armenia and the Diaspora buy only Armenian goods: agricultural products, drinks and services provided by Armenian companies,” Harutiunian wrote on Facebook. “Supporting business and the taxpayer in this way is vital for strengthening our Independence and Sovereignty.
“No closure of the Lars checkpoint will affect us if Armenian business finds new markets on the holiday and non-holiday tables of our compatriots living abroad. On New Year's and Christmas tables there should be only Armenian-made vegetables, fruit, wine, brandy, and other agricultural products.”
Russia has long been the main export market for these products. They still account for a significant share of Armenia’s overall exports to Russia that nearly doubled to $2.6 billion in January-September this year mainly because of a re-export of Western consumer goods.
Russia is also home to the largest Armenian Diaspora community in the world comprising an estimated 2 million people. The figure is believed to exceed the combined number of ethnic Armenians living in the United States and the European Union.
Armenia exported $575 million worth of goods -- mostly base metals, ore concentrates and refined diamonds -- to EU countries in the nine-month period. Armenian exports to the U.S. totaled a meager $35 million, according to Armenian government data.
Harutiunian did not say whether the Armenian government can help domestic food exporters gain greater access to the tightly regulated Western markets. The government official, who is also a senior member of Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, could not be reached for comment.
Harutiun Mnatsakanian, a wholesale wheat trader who has done business in Europe for the last eight years, said Harutiunian’s appeal is “dangerous” in the absence of alternative export markets for Armenia’s agricultural and food-processing sectors. Mnatsakanian argued that the EU has strict sanitary and quality standards for foodstuffs that are not enforced in Armenia.
“On top of that, you have to solve logistical problems,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “It can be said that we don’t have a logistical system for the European market and transportation costs are very high. These problems make it practically impossible for us to engage in major commerce in the European markets.”
Hovik Aghazarian, a pro-government parliamentarian, was also skeptical, saying that while Harutiunian sent a “very important message” to the Diaspora it alone “will not solve the problem.” Armenia can only diversify its exports “in the long run,” he said.
Echoing statements by his opposition colleagues, Aghazarian suggested that the tighter border controls introduced by the Russians are politically motivated. Government officials in Yerevan have so far been careful not to make such claims in public.