By Emil Danielyan
(RFE/RL) – President Barack Obama has reportedly hailed a significant increase in U.S. investments in the Armenian economy registered last year and said U.S.-Armenian commercial ties should deepen further in the years ahead.
“President Obama noted that the 2015 rise in U.S. investments in Armenia to a historic level is only the beginning of large-scale trade and investment ties that are critical for Armenia, the region and beyond,” the ministry said in a statement.
Most of those investments stemmed from the sale of Armenia’s largest hydroelectric complex to a U.S. company, ContourGlobal. The $250 million deal, signed in June 2015, marked the single largest private U.S. investment made in the Armenian economy to date. The U.S. Embassy said afterwards that Washington is “very pleased” with the deal.
ContourGlobal’s takeover of the Vorotan complex was formalized one month after the signing in Washington of a U.S.-Armenian Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). In line with that agreement, the U.S. and Armenian governments set up a joint Council on Trade and Investment tasked with addressing obstacles to bilateral trade and facilitating U.S. investments.
The council held its inaugural session in Yerevan in November. The issues on its agenda included customs administration, intellectual property rights, non-tariff trade barriers, food safety standards and government procurement.
Richard Mills, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, said after the meeting that Armenia needs to improve its investment climate if it is to attract more U.S. investors. He said that while there are “real opportunities” in the country for American firms they need a stronger rule of law and a level playing field in order to set up shop there.
Another intergovernmental body, the U.S.-Armenia Task Force (USATF), met in the Armenian capital the following day. It too discussed trade-related issues.
“It’s something that I am actually very optimistic about,” Bridget Brink, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said ahead of the annual USATF meeting.
Despite those developments, U.S.-Armenian trade plummeted by over 27 percent to $162 million in 2015, according to Armenian government statistics. Armenian exports to the U.S. alone tumbled by as much as 40 percent to about $55 million. The reasons for this sharp drop are not yet clear.
Armenia’s overall foreign trade shrunk by over 20 percent in 2015 mainly because of decreased imports reflecting a significant fall in multimillion-dollar cash remittances from Armenian migrant workers in recession-hit Russia.
President Sarkisian reaffirmed the importance of close relations with the U.S. to his government when he met with a visiting senior Obama administration official on January 14. Charles Kupchan, senior director for European affairs at the U.S. National Security Council, arrived in Yerevan the day after visiting Baku and holding talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
Both Aliyev and Sarkisian have been officially invited to attend a global nuclear security summit that will begin its work in Washington on March 31. Ambassador Hovannisian told Obama that the Armenian president has accepted his invitation.
Sarkisian was among some 50 heads of state and government who participated, at Obama’s invitation, in a UN peacekeeping summit held in New York in September.