Will Armenia be able to integrate into European free trade zone bypassing Russia?

Armenia is intensifying its economic ties with Europe and intends to hold the first round of negotiations with the European Union on a free trade agreement on June 19-20 in Brussels, said Armenia’s Deputy Economy Minister Garegin Melkonyan this week.

The Armenian government official noted that earlier a meeting of the subcommittee on Armenia-EU trade cooperation was held. After the signing of the agreement Armenia expects its foreign trade to grow substantially and also looks to increase its production capacities. According to Melkonyan, the European Union today is a major trading partner for Armenia, considering that 47 percent of Armenia’s exports go to EU-member states.

EU delegation head Luc Devigne praised Armenia’s steps towards reform. “We are talking about the abolition of technical barriers to trade, improving the competitive field and the sphere of intellectual property. At the same time, much remains to be done. We hope that the government will continue the reforms,” he said.

Armenia’s rapid European integration with the EU is seen by many analysts as part of an attempt by the EU to quickly gain a foothold in the South Caucasus to oust Russia from some of its current zones of influence. Russia’s newly elected President Vladimir Putin is known to be actively promoting the idea of establishing a Eurasian Union, a new economic reintegration project in the post-Soviet space. At the level of its prime minister Armenia said it thought it would be more expedient for itself to have just cooperation rather than seek integration in that direction. The official, at the same time, said Armenia was looking to Europe for integration.

“The prime minister of Armenia, if I understand correctly, has once again stressed that on the one hand they are interested in intensifying relations with the CIS, referring to the free trade agreements with CIS-member countries, on the other hand, that they are interested in boosting trade and economic and political relations with the EU. It would be contradictory and impossible, for example, to accede to the Deep and Comprehensive free Trade Area (DCFTA) agreement with the EU and at the same time become part of the Eurasian and Customs Unions,” commented German Ambassador to Armenia Hans-Jochen Schmidt recently.

Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan himself thinks that integration with Europe is important in terms of standardization of economic conditions and gateways to the world market. “In the next two or three years we expect hard meticulous work on the implementation of European standards. It is no secret that Europeans set high standards for production, storage, transportation and sale of goods. Profound changes in technical processes, internal control systems are required to comply with these standards. The economy must go through serious qualitative changes. As a result, the free trade agreement with the EU will provide substantial progress in Armenia, will significantly increase its exports and imports, will significantly reduce the trade deficit. For us this is important because Armenia has a great potential for positioning in the global market as a country that produces environmentally friendly products,” said Sargsyan in an article published recently in the Russian Vedomosti newspaper.

Interestingly, the announcement that Russian President Putin will pay a visit to Armenia in early September was followed shortly by another one of an impending visit by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

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