YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia is set to join the World Trade Organization before the end of this year after years of negotiations with member states–Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Tigran Davtian said on Saturday.
Davtian told RFE/RL that the Armenian government will be forced to begin the accession process from scratch if it fails to secure WTO membership before the start of a new round global trade negotiations next January. He said Yerevan is stepping up its efforts to overcome remaining obstacles which mainly involve its policy on agriculture and telecommunications.
Two leading WTO members–Canada and Australia–demand that Armenia ensure equal treatment of domestic and imported agricultural products by abolishing a 10 percent import duty on some foodstuffs. They also insist that government subsidies to the Armenian agricultural sector do not exceed $40 million per annum. The Armenian government–which currently gives far less subsidies to local farmers–is reluctant to be tied down by any commitmen’s on that score.
The United States government–for its part–is known to object to the 15-year monopoly on telecommunications services in Armenia granted in 1998 to the Greek-owned ArmenTel operator. Officials in Yerevan say the controversial exclusive rights may be watered down or altogether abolished as a result of their ongoing talks with the Hellenic Telecommunication Organization (OTE)–ArmenTel’s owner.
Successive Armenian governmen’s have argued that membership of the WTO would help Armenia improve its highly unfavorable external trade balance.