YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A major international business forum designed to highlight investment opportunities in Armenia has again been postponed to give the authorities in Yerevan more time for preparations–a senior World Bank official said on Tuesday. Originally slated for last May–the forum was due to take place this October in London with the participation of leading Western lending institutions and business people.
According to Oweis Saadat–the World Bank’s resident representative in Armenia–the gathering – the first in its kind – is likely to be held early next year–most probably in New York. The decision to change the venue was made during President Robert Kocharian’s official visit to the United States in June–Saadat told RFE/RL.
Other informed sources suggested that the move may have been related to the sacking last May of former prime minister Armen Sargsyan as Armenia’s ambassador to Britain. Sargsyan–whose dismissal was widely believed to be politically motivated–is known to have strong connections with the management of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)–one of the organizers of the planned business forum.
While accepting that EBRD has now a more lukewarm attitude to the undertaking–Saadat denied that political considerations were behind change of the venue. He said that the stabilization of the political situation in the country after last year’s parliament shootings creates more favorable conditions for foreign investmen’s in the struggling Armenian economy. The government–he said–should use the forum as an opportunity for arousing stronger international interest in Armenia.
"One of the key things here is to have at least five or six good projects–which can be put on the table and offered to the people to immediately consider for investmen’s," Saadat said. He added that the government still has a lot to do for improving the investment climate in the country.
A recent report by the International Finance Corporation–a World Bank division–singles out regional instability–corruption–bureaucratic red tape and political scandals over a number of privatization deals as the main factors impeding greater influx of foreign capital to Armenia. The volume of direct foreign investmen’s in the Armenian economy was just around $100 million last year–far lower than the record high figure of $240 million registered in 1998.