Armenia Lebanon Ponder Closer Business Ties

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafik Hariri arrived in Armenia on Thursday on a two-day official visit primarily aimed at boosting the modest commercial exchange between the two countries.

Hariri–who is accompanied by cabinet ministers and four ethnic Armenian members of the Lebanese parliament–went straight into talks with his Armenian counterpart Andranik Markarian.

The two men then opened a meeting over of an intergovernmental commission on bilateral economic cooperation–with Markarian calling for increased bilateral trade and "mutual investmen’s." He said Armenia has a lot to learn from the Middle Eastern nation’s burgeoning tourism and banking industries.

Hariri–for his part–said the Armenian and Lebanese business communities should set up a permanent joint structure that would explore and facilitate investment opportunities in the two countries. He also requested Armenia’s assistance to Lebanon’s efforts to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Markarian responded that Yerevan–which was admitted to the WTO last year–is ready to help.

The existence of an influential and affluent Armenian community in Lebanon has been instrumental in the warm political ties developed by the two states over the past decade. Efforts to put economic links on a comparable level–however–have fallen short so far–with the volume of bilateral trade remaining negligible.

"Trade volume is far from satisfactory–but the potential is great," the Armenian ambassador in Beirut Areg Hovannisian said–and discussed 50 joint ventures and other firms with Lebanese capital registered in Armenia. He also spoke of plans to open a Lebanese-Armenian bank.

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