GENEVA Reuters/AFP)–The Republic of Armenia got the go-ahead on Tuesday from the current 144 members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to join the body–just six years after it began negotiations.
Approval of the Armenian application came at a meeting of the WTO’s ruling General Council–and was promptly hailed by the European Union as clearing the way for the trans-Caucasian state to "reap the benefits of the world trade system.”
Negotiations on an entry package–which began in 1996–had stalled a year ago amid complaints from WTO countries that Armenia was slow in implementing market reforms they insisted were vital before it could come in.
But in recent months its parliament has passed a raft of legislation bringing Armenian trade practices into line with WTO rules allowing access to its markets for foreign goods and service providers.
"Overall–Armenia has been able to offer its WTO partners commitmen’s that are balanced and in line with its economic capacities,” EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said in a statement issued from Brussels.
WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi attended a ceremony to mark the signing by Armenian Minister of Trade and Economic Development–Karen Chshmaritian–of a protocol of accession after the decision by the general council.
The protocol lays out the terms and conditions for Armenia’s entry–and the package now needs to be ratified by the Armenian parliament. Thirty days after the WTO is officially notified of the ratification–the country will bolster the currently 144-strong membership.
"After the declaration of independence–the foreign economic and trade policy of Armenia has been directed towards integration into the world economy–stimulation of exports–attraction of investmen’s and intensification of the cooperation with international organizations," Markarian said.
Supachai called the move "very significant" for Armenia and the multilateral trading system. "Since achieving independence–Armenia embarked on a comprehensive process of democratization–economic liberalization and market reform in which membership of the WTO is a decisive milestone," the WTO chief said.
"Overall–Armenia has been able to offer its WTO partners commitmen’s that are balanced and in line with its economic capacities," EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said in a statement issued from Brussels.
Armenia’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate in 2001 was 9.6 percent–and was expected to reach 12 percent in 2002. Last year–GDP by sector was made up 28 percent of agriculture–35 percent from services–and 37 percent by industry. Exports amounted to $343 million–and imports to $874 million in 2001.
Armenia–which has a population of nearly four million–must now have its entry package ratified by parliament and then formally notify the WTO that this has been done. One month later–it will automatically become a member.
It will join five other former Soviet republics in the WTO: its neighbor Georgia–Moldova–Latvia–Lithuania and Estonia.
Russia–Ukraine–Azerbaijan–Belarus–Kazakhstan–Kyrgyzstan–Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are all negotiating entry. Of the ex-Soviet states only Turkmen’stan–which has stuck to Stalinist-style politics and economics–has stayed aloof.