YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenia does not expect to sign on April 29 an agreement formalizing its accession to the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, Economy Minister Vahram Avanesian said on Friday, correcting his own statement made the day before.
“I answered journalists’ questions in haste and did not address the subject in full,” Avanesian said of his announcement on Thursday that the accession treaty will be signed at a summit of the union’s three member states slated for April 29.
Avanesian said a working group of officials from the Armenian government and the Russian-led trade alliance will meet on April 25 to take stock of membership talks held so far and submit relevant recommendations to the summit. The Russian, Belarusian and Kazakh presidents will then “decide what kind of an agreement should be prepared and possibly set a date for its signing,” he told a news conference.
Avanesian’s first deputy, Karine Minasian, clarified that the document could be signed after the three ex-Soviet states formally agree to turn their Russian-led trade bloc into a Eurasian Economic Union. They are expected to sign a corresponding treaty in late May.
Minasian said Armenia may thus join the Eurasian Union without getting to be a member of the Customs Union. “That depends on when that [May] agreement will be scheduled to take effect. It is very important for us not to find ourselves in a [legal] vacuum,” she told journalists.
The uncertainty over the signing date appears to reflect Yerevan’s failure so far to secure vital concessions for Armenia’s membership in the union. The Armenian side wants to exempt hundreds of imported goods, including foodstuffs, drugs, cars and construction materials, from considerably higher uniform customs duties enforced by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Analysts believe the cost of living in Armenia would rise significantly without these trade preferences.
Avanesian expressed hope that a list of such goods will be agreed upon by the working group on April 25. “I can say that we are very happy with the course of our negotiations,” he said. “Our partners are showing understanding, even though there are certainly conflicts of interest.”