Iranian Goods Exhibit Kicks Off in Yerevan

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A fifth exhibition of Iranian goods opened in Yerevan on Friday amid signs of a continuing decline in bilateral trade which analysts attribute to rising quality deman’s in the Armenian market.

The exhibition was followed on Saturday by an Armenian-Iranian business conference during entrepreneurs from the two neighboring countries called for more mutual investmen’s as opposed to pure economic exchange.

Products of some 50 Iranian firms were available during the exhibition–fewer than in the previous years. The smaller Iranian participation is part of a wider tendency which has meant a steady decline in bilateral trade since 1996. The volume of annual Armenian-Iranian trade decreased from $200 million in 1996 to $130 million in 1997 and is not expected to exceed $100 million this year. Analysts say cheap Iranian imports find it increasingly difficult to compete with better quality goods produced in Armenia and other more developed countries.

Aram Vartanian–the chairman of the Armenian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs–told the conference that too much emphasis has until now been placed on import and export of goods in the Armenian-Iranian economic cooperation. He called for more efforts to set up joint ventures and spur mutual investmen’s. That view was backed by Iran’s deputy minister of trade–who added that better banking and insurance mechanisms need to be in place to increase bilateral business ties.

Cheap Iranian goods and food in particular are believed to have helped many poor Armenia’s to survive a severe economic slump in the early 1990s caused by the collapse of the Soviet command economy and war with Azerbaijan. Iran’still remains Armenia’s second largest trade partner after Russia.

Hossein Soltani–the vice-president of the Iranian Export Development Center–said on Saturday that Yerevan and Tehran are "strategic partners" and should develop long-term cooperation projects.

Another speaker at the conference–Suren Azatian–who is the chief manager of Armenia’s Medzamor nuclear power plant–proposed that Iran make use of Armenian experts in its nuclear energy programs.

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