YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The European Union will officially open on June 19 negotiations with Armenia on a far-reaching free trade agreement that should significantly deepen the South Caucasus nation’s integration with the 27-nation bloc, it was announced on Wednesday.
Armenian and EU officials made the announcement after a regular session of a joint body dealing with commerce and other economic affairs.
The two sides plan to create a Deep and Comprehensive free Trade Area (DCFTA) as part of an “association agreement” currently being negotiated by them. The agreement stems from the EU’s Eastern Partnership program covering six former Soviet republics.
The EU member states gave the final green light to formal talks with Yerevan on the DCFTA in February. The launch of those talks was delayed last year because of EU objections to a controversial mechanism for import valuation and taxation of imported alcoholic beverages applied by Armenia’s customs service. The Armenian government scrambled to meet relevant preconditions set by the EU’s executive body, the European Commission.
Luc Devigne, a senior official from the Commission’s Directorate General for Trade, said the government still needs to do “a lot” to secure a permanent free trade regime with the world’s largest and most affluent single market. “We will keep monitoring this during the negotiations,” he told reporters in Yerevan after the meeting of the EU-Armenia Subcommittee on Trade, Economic and Related Legal Issues.
“In the meeting the EU side welcomed the progress achieved so far and encouraged the Armenian side to further intensify its reform efforts,” the EU Delegation in Yerevan said in a separate statement. It said the subcommittee members “shared their assessment of the latest developments” in Armenia’s business environment.
The DCFTA envisages not only mutual lifting of all trade barriers but also harmonization of Armenian economic laws and regulations with those existing in the EU. Garegin Melkonian, a deputy minister of economy who led the Armenian side at the subcommittee meeting, emphasized this fact.
“In contrast to simple free trade that we have with a number of countries, we are talking about a more comprehensive and complete package which will not only serve as a serious basis for the development of Armenia-EU ties but also stimulate processes of internal development and reforms in Armenia,” Melkonian told a joint news briefing with Devigne.
“In other words, this will eventually lead us to improved economic administration and conformity with European standards,” he said.
Devigne declined to speculate how long the impending DCFTA talks will last. “I’m not into the forecast business,” he said. “Otherwise, I would be in a different job.”
The EU official added that progress in the talks will primarily depend on Yerevan.