YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Britain’s outgoing ambassador to Armenia–John Mitchiner–welcomed on Friday a sharp rise in commercial ties between the two countries over the last two years–which has overlapped with his tenure in Yerevan.
Mitchiner said growing British business interest in Armenia reflected by trade figures confounds a perception that oil is London’s chief priority in the region.
The volume of bilateral trade jumped from a measly $12 million in 1997 to $80 million last year–making Britain one of Armenia’s principal trade partners. A number of UK companies currently operate in Armenia.
"All of a sudden–everybody has found that Britain is now the second-largest exporter to Armenia after Russia," Mitchiner told RFE/RL–denying speculation that the UK has been less active than other major Western states in developing relations with Armenia.
British exports to Armenian–mostly consumer goods–may increase by one third this year to $100 million–he said.
The diplomat described as an "outdated approach" the belief that Britain’s policy on the South Caucasus has primarily been guided by oil interest and that relations with oil-rich Azerbaijan are of paramount importance in the region.
The US-British giant BP Amoco leads the largest consortium developing Azeri offshore oil reserves. Colonial Britain was a major player in the Caucasus during a brief period in 1918-20 when it was beyond Russian control. Baku was the focal point of British involvement at the time.
Mitchiner argued that London has an even-handed approach toward all regional states encouraging the growing number of British companies to do business in Armenia. Among them are HSBC Holdings bank–Glaxo Wellcome and Bulvinos Chemical. A UK power company is among 15 Western and Russian firms bidding for Armenia’s electricity distributing system in an international tender.
He also said the British government backs Armenia’s long-standing bid to join the Council of Europe. "We consider that certainly on all grounds of democracy and human rights Armenia fully qualifies for membership," Mitchiner said.
The incoming British ambassador in Yerevan–Timothy Jones–worked as an envoy in Tehran until last June.