US Attempts to Block Armenia WTO Entry

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian said on Thursday that Armenia’s long-awaited membership in the World Trade Organization has again been postponed after the United States demanded simultaneous admission with Azerbaijan.

Khachatrian claimed that Washington promised to drop its objections after talks with Armenian officials last week and that Yerevan now hopes to enter the powerful global trade body in December.

Armenian officials had previously declared that their country will formally conclude six-year accession talks with WTO member states at the end of September. As recently as two weeks ago the Armenian parliament approved final amendmen’s to the country’s legislation designed to bring it into conformity with WTO standards.

But according to Khachatrian–the U.S. officials found that Armenia’s laws still do not meet those standards and voiced their position at last week’s meeting in Washington of the U.S.-Armenian economic Task Force. But he said the Americans are primarily concerned with ensuring a simultaneous membership of Armenia and its arch-rival Azerbaijan on purely political grounds.

Azerbaijan’s accession talks with the WTO are still in the beginning stages and may takes months–if not years. The United States has in the past urged the Council of Europe not to admit Armenia ahead of Azerbaijan–arguing that that would complicate the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

"It is unacceptable to link economic progress of one country to that of another," Khachatrian complained at a news conference–adding that Armenian argumen’s were eventually accepted by the U.S. government.

"They seemed to accept our argumen’s–and that problem should be solved by next December," the minister said. "At least–they promised to drop their objections."

Armenian officials have been predicting an imminent WTO membership since 2000. But Armenia’s accession was always delayed by last-minute objections voiced by some of the 144 member countries ahead of important WTO meetings. The WTO’s director general–Mike Moore–predicted in May that Armenia will at last become a member of the organization before the end of this year.

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