BY TEREZA YERIMYAN
UCLA Class of 2012
ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship – 2011
Summer seems to be the prime time for all sorts of conferences here in Washington, DC. Foreign policy conferences, trade group conferences, and who can forget the ANCA’s Armenian Cause 2.0. So when ANCA Government Affairs Director Kate Nahapetian called me into her office one Thursday afternoon and asked if I wanted to go to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s (USGLC) conference on U.S. foreign aid policy, I jumped at the chance.
Let me start off with a bit about the USGLC. It is a broad-based influential network of 400 businesses and NGOs, national security and foreign policy experts, businesses, faith-based, academic and community leaders from the 50 states who “support a smart power approach of elevating diplomacy and development alongside defense in order to build a better, safer world.” The USGLC works in Washington, DC and across the country to educate and garner support from the American public and policymakers on the importance of America’s civilian-led tools of diplomacy and development. The ANCA is a member of this coalition and works with it to influence the expansion of U.S.-Armenia trade and U.S. foreign aid to Armenia and Karabakh.
The USGLC featured guest speakers including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick, MSNBC Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd, a number of U.S. senators and former U.S. ambassadors, and other guests. The conference was the perfect place to explore opportunities to expand U.S.-Armenia economic relations.
At 8 am, I walked into the lobby of the Grand Hyatt and all I could see were officials speaking with each other – all kinds of business leaders, consultants, government officials and more. Seemed like most everyone knew one another or knew of each other. I walked around the table expo in the lobby and started introducing myself to representatives from the Millennium Challenge Co., USAID, OPIC, and CARE, among others.
Then we all headed to the ballroom to hear the remarks of the day. I searched for the nearest table to the podium and found one that was not reserved. Our table was the very definition of diverse – a former U.S. Ambassador to Peru, members of the Food for Hunger organization, an associate from Boeing, and the Director of CARANA (a consulting firm). The next table over was reserved for the National Security Council, the President’s principal forum for considering national security and foreign policy matters. Booz Allen, Tetra Tech. Inc., and Deloitte were among the other reserved tables lined up near me.
Secretary Clinton’s opening remarks were powerful and persuasive. She implored Congress to pass two foreign aid bills that would amount to 1% of the total U.S. budget. The ANCA has been working with House and Senate Appropriators on Armenian American aid priorities during my time here in DC – although our community was advocating for more than the Obama Administration was requesting from Congress.
Secretary Clinton emphasized the importance of trade and foreign investment. “We promote trade to open new markets and create more jobs at home,” she explained. She advocated bilateral trade agreements that would “put trade deals to work on behalf of the American people.” All sound advice – which got me thinking. If bilateral trade is such a priority – why not extend that concept to expand U.S.-Armenia trade?
The ANCA has been advocating for this for years now, in the form of a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with Armenia. The agreement would help foster economic growth in both the United States and Armenia, strengthening ties between our two governments and further reinforcing the bonds between the American and Armenian peoples. The American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia has come out in support of the initiative and so has Dr. Varos Simonyan, the head of the Armenian Ministry of Economy’s European Union and International Economic Affairs Department.
The U.S. government has negotiated TIFAs with over 50 other countries and regional economic groups, including Georgia and Ukraine. A TIFA agreement would provide a broader, ongoing, and more consistent platform for our government to meet and consult with Armenian government officials regarding expanding our economic cooperation and exploring opportunities for trade and investment. Secretary Clinton cautioned that “economic competitors are signing bilateral trade deal,” with countries that are strategic for our national security and economic interests. She argued for more creative exports.
Madam Secretary, a TIFA with Armenia fits right into your vision for a stronger, mutually beneficial economic relationship. Let’s explore creative ways to expand bilateral trade between Armenia and the U.S. At the same time, let’s consider establishing a double-taxation treaty which will allow U.S. businesses in Armenia to operate without the pressures of an outdated Soviet era tax treaty. If you are serious about expanding trade opportunities, Armenian and American businesses are ready to take you up on your offer – starting with the establishment of a TIFA.