YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia’s business environment has continued to improve over the past year, putting the South Caucasus country among “the top performers in Europe and Central Asia,” the World Bank said in an annual global report released on Wednesday.
The bank’s 2016 Doing Business report rated 189 economies on ten different areas of government regulation, including tax administration, business and property registration and access to credit. Armenia is 35th in the latest rankings, up from 38th place in last year’s survey.
“Armenia is among the 26 economies at the global level that implemented 3 or more reforms,” says the latest report.
The World Bank specifically attributed the improvement to government measures that facilitated the issuance of government permits for construction projects and enforcement of business contracts. It also argued that Armenia’s recent accession to the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) simplified export and import operations with Russia, a key trading partner.
“Armenia reduced the time and cost for documentary and border compliance for trade with the Russian Federation by joining the Eurasian Economic Union,” said the report. “As a result, the time for import border compliance was reduced from approximately 50 hours to 3 hours.”
Armenia was again rated highly in the report’s “Starting a business” and “Registering property” categories. “It takes only 3 days for an entrepreneur in Yerevan to incorporate—the same time as in Denmark,” the report says, adding that, “it takes only 7 days to register a property transfer compared to 48 days on average at the global level.”
At the same time, Armenia again scored poorly in the “Paying taxes” category. In particular, the World Bank said that local firms spend an average of more than 400 hours each year on dealings with tax authorities.
Harassment by tax and customs officials has long been a key source of complaints voiced by Armenian businesspeople. Corruption among those officials is believed to remain widespread.
Economic activity in the country is also hampered by a lack of competition which translates into de facto business monopolies owned by government-linked entrepreneurs. Samson Grigorian, the vice-chairman of an Armenian small business association, cited this problem when he reacted with skepticism to the World Bank’s findings.
“I am able to sell only things that I am allowed to sell, rather than things that I would like to sell,” Grigorian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Albert Babayan, a senior official at the economy ministry, insisted, however, that doing business in the country has indeed become easier. “Things have been improving since 2011,” he said.