YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—The Armenian economy has avoided a serious crisis despite contracting during the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian insisted on Thursday.
Pashinian cited government data suggesting that economic activity in the country is slowly picking up after declining sharply in the second quarter of this year. He singled out a 2.5 percent year-on-year fall in the volume of retail trade and services registered in August.
“This [negative] indicator was quite high from March onward,” Pashinian told a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan. “It’s now falling.”
“These figures clearly show that there is no social [and economic] crisis in Armenia,” he claimed. “Of course there is no denying that there has been a deterioration of the socioeconomic situation and we lost growth. But it’s very important to take note of this fact.”
According to the government’s Statistical Committee, Armenia’s GDP shrunk by about 14 percent in real terms in April-June 2020 after growing by almost 4 percent in the first quarter. The decline followed a coronavirus-related nationwide lockdown imposed in late March.
The Armenian government gradually reopened most sectors of the domestic economy, including cafes and restaurants, by the beginning of May. The country’s Central Bank forecast in June that the economy will contract by 4 percent in 2020 due to the negative impact of the pandemic.
Pashinian said his government has mitigated that impact with more than 163 billion drams ($336 million) spent on various stimulus measures. He also seemed to imply that unemployment in Armenia has not increased significantly since March.
The prime minister said in that regard that as of July this year the number of officially registered workers in the country stood at over 613,000 and was slightly higher than in July 2019.
The higher number of jobs most probably resulted from a continuing government crackdown on the informal sector of the economy which still employs many Armenians. Employers do not register them to avoid paying their income and pension taxes.
Official statistics suggest that the number of unregistered workers has fallen significantly since Pashinian came to power in May 2018. According the State Revenue Committee (SRC), private entities reported more than 87,000 new jobs to the tax service from May 2018 through December 2019.
The SRC and other government agencies have not yet come up with any estimates of the number of Armenians who have lost their jobs or businesses during the coronavirus crisis.
The government’s handling of the crisis and its socioeconomic consequences is strongly criticized by opposition groups.