Armenia and Canada: A trading work in progress -
By Armen Yeganian,
Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to Canada -
Further enhancing trade with Canada has been on my radar since the first day I arrived in Canada. In my previous capacity, as director of the Americas at Armenia’s foreign ministry, I was aware of our economic realities, mainly that there was established mining co-operation between our countries and that all other aspects of trade were foreshadowed by it. Having signed agreements on trade and commerce, promotion and protection of investments, avoidance of double-taxation and others, we have established a strong legal basis that can be used to intensify our trade relations.
Big Canadian mining companies, such as Dundee Precious Metals, have been operating in Armenia since the mid-1990s in the mining of non-ferrous metals, in particular, gold. In 2012, Canada was one of the biggest investors in the Armenian economy with a $116-million investment in mining, which was followed by another $58 million in 2013. Co-operation with Canadian companies in mining is appreciated by Armenia and the know-how brought by those companies is extremely valuable. Still, growing bilateral trade relations cannot be based on mining alone.
Last year’s figures were promising: Armenian exports to Canada exceeded $95 million and imports from Canada stood at $44 million. Minerals and textiles were the main goods we exported, while meat, meat products, processed food, paper, medicine and tools were the main items we imported from Canada.
Armenia has a flourishing jewelry industry that has enjoyed success in the Canadian market in the past. For example, in the mid-2000s, Armenian experts helped establish a jewelry factory in Yellowknife, N.W.T., and educate the locals in this art.
There are real hopes for increasing co-operation in the field of information technology. The pioneer of Canadian-Armenian co-operation in high-tech is Gatineau’s Macadamian Technology Inc., a company that specialises in software development. The company’s branch in our capital city, Yerevan, started with one employee; now they number almost 70. The Armenian branch was part of the Macadamian team that developed applications for the BlackBerry 10.
For a country such as Armenia, software development can become an important asset to the economy. This fact is undeniably recognised by our government, which has put an emphasis on this industry. IT education is a vital part of all top Armenian universities. Moreover, in 2011, the Tumo Centre for Creative Technologies was established in Yerevan. It provides free IT education to children aged 12 to 18. Building on its initial success, it opened a new branch in the city of Dilijan last year, with plans for further expansion. I should also mention the presence of big companies such as Microsoft, Synopsys, Synergy and others, in the Armenian market.
Recently, the Armenian government announced that IT startup companies with up to 15 employees can operate tax-free for a period of three years. Armenians and our partners worldwide, including several Canadian companies, were delighted by this policy change. This is the field in which I would like to see our trade grow.
The government has also created special tax-exempt “free economic zones” in the hopes that they will contribute to increased exports and job creation while also ensuring sustainable economic development by integrating foreign direct investments and introducing advanced technologies. IT and jewelry businesses are the main targets for these free economic zones.
Armenia is also very eager to develop relations in the field of civil aviation and air communication. In October 2013, we adopted an Open Skies Policy. The modern and competitive Zvartnots International Airport in Yerevan was named the best airport of the post-Soviet area at the Second Annual Emerging Airports Conference and Exhibition held in Dubai in 2013. With our Open Skies Policy, Zvartnots Airport has all the prerequisites to become an important international hub. After all, Armenia’s capital city is conveniently located between Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
My country has a growing economy that has free-trade agreements with most members of the Commonwealth of Independent States and low tariffs with Canada, U.S., Japan and members of the EU. Further, Armenia has been a member of the World Trade Organization since 2003. With the support of our international partners, we are building a free, competitive market economy that includes the best Armenian tradition of entrepreneurship alongside modern global economic trends.