Obama Hails Increased U.S. Investments In Armenia

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.

According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Obama made the comments as he received the credentials of Armenia’s newly appointed ambassador to the United States, Grigor Hovannisian, late last week.

“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.

High-level Delegations Discuss U.S.-Armenia Economic and Trade Ties

(U.S. Embassy – Yerevan, Armenia) – This week, the first meeting of the U.S.-Armenia Council on Trade and Investment will be held in Yerevan. Following that historic session, members of the U.S.-Armenia Joint Economic Task Force will also gather in Yerevan.

“The U.S.-Armenia Joint Economic Task Force (or USATF), was created in 1999 and it meets every year. The annual meetings are an opportunity for high-level delegations from both the Armenian and U.S. governments to meet and have an opportunity to discuss ways how we can deepen our economic ties, we can further market reforms in Armenia, and how we, as the U.S. government, can best use U.S. assistance to contribute to Armenia’s long-term economic growth, create more jobs, and promote trade between our two countries,” U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills, Jr. said. “Then in addition, this past May, our two countries signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (called a TIFA). And the TIFA establishes something called the Armenia-U.S. Council on Trade and Investment. It is this newly-established TIFA Council that will hold very detailed, very deep discussions that are specifically focused on our trade relationship and what are some of the barriers to Armenians trading and investing in the U.S. and to Americans trading and investing in Armenia.”

During the first meeting of the Armenia-U.S. Council on Trade and Investment, a day-long session which will take place on November 17, technical experts from both sides will discuss a wide range of issues, including intellectual property rights, customs clearances, technical barriers to trade, sanitary measures, investment promotion efforts, private sector engagement, government procurement, WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, and environmental and labor issues.

“There will be participants at this week’s TIFA Council meeting from the U.S. government and the Armenian government, and they will discuss a number of issues that, if left unaddressed, can hinder trade between our two countries,” Ambassador Mills said. “The idea is to identify and then have both countries commit to address these very technical trade issues; and in doing so, help to improve trade and business between the United States and Armenia. The goal of all of this, and particularly of the Council, is to get more American products available to Armenian consumers. That will increase Armenians’ choice and competition. And it means easier access to the U.S. market for Armenian businessmen and women, Armenian exporters. And that should create jobs here in Armenia that will help the Armenian economy and help the average Armenian.”

On November 19, the U.S.-Armenia Joint Economic Task Force will meet here in Yerevan to discuss economic issues of mutual interest to our countries.

“The newly-established Council on Trade and Investment (the TIFA Council) is a platform to discuss very specific, very technical trade issues, while the USATF Joint Economic Task Force brings together senior officials from the U.S. and Armenian government to focus on big-picture, larger economic issues that will affect our bilateral relationship now and in the future; issues such as, tax reform in Armenia, anti-corruption efforts, Armenia’s nuclear power strategy and broader energy strategy going into the future.  As I discussed last week during my speech at the American Chamber of Commerce, my top priority as U.S. ambassador is to intensify the business and the commercial relations between our two countries.  And I think TIFA and USATF have a very important role to play as the relationship between our two countries is beginning to shift from one that has primarily been based on assistance to one that is now grounded in very mutually beneficial trade and economic partnerships,” said Ambassador Mills.