EU Delegation in Armenia for Free Trade Talks

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–A trade delegation from the European Commission arrived in Yerevan Wednesday for a two-day fact-finding mission to prepare for negotiations on the signing of an ambitious free trade agreement between Armenia and the European Union, reported Armradio.

The delegation, headed by the Director of the European Commission’s Trade Department, Ewa Synowiec, is scheduled to meet with top government officials, as well as political and economic experts.

“We will discuss the whole program and in case of the successful implementation of it we will ensure a business environment in the Armenian trade market corresponding to European standards,” Armenia’s Economy Minister, Nerses Yeritsyan, told reporters at a press conference Wednesday. He added that Armenia will seek assistance from EU experts in implementing economic and legislative reforms currently on the books, noting that the problem is not in the laws but the “mechanisms for their implementation.”

The discussions are to help the Commission establish benchmarks for first priority reforms needed to prepare Armenia for trade talks, said Synowiec, adding that earlier discussions in May 2008 had already determined the main points of the agreement and the conditions for Armenia to meet to seal the deal.

“In an earlier stage of discussions we clarified to what extent Armenia is ready and what kind of Free Trade Agreement should be signed in the future,” she said. “The objective of this mission is to reveal and understand [Armenia’s] problems in the sphere of trade and help [it] prepare for the process of negotiations more effectively.”

Last year’s discussions, Synowiec said, concluded that the Armenian government should focus on the proper implementation and application of economic reforms and strengthen departmental skills to effectively stimulate economic growth and create new jobs.

Deeper economic ties are a key element in the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy and the new Eastern Partnership initiative launched last December. The free trade agreement, if signed, will enhance current Armenia-EU trade links and offer both sides preferential access to each other’s markets, lifting investment barriers, abolishing tariffs, and speeding reforms to make Armenian laws correspond with EU laws and procedures.

The Eastern Partnership is designed to boost financial support and cooperation for the former Soviet Republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, bringing them closer to the EU, politically and economically. The program’s objective is to boost political cooperation and integrate ex-soviet states into EU economy, as well as extend financial assistance to these countries and ensure energy security in the post-soviet space.

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