Armenia-Italy firm political ties, growing trade, developing tourism – Ambassador Victoria Baghdasaryan’s interview
YEREVAN, JUNE 29, ARMENPRESS. Italy is one of Armenia’s key trade-economic partners which is reflected in the stable bilateral trade turnover growth rates, Armenia’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Italy Victoria Baghdasaryan said.
She gave an interview to Armenpress talking about the current stage of Armenia-Italy relations, joint programs and issues related to the Armenian community.
–Mrs. Ambassador, this year marks the 25th anniversary of Armenia-Italy diplomatic relations. What achievements will you identify in Armenian-Italian diplomatic ties in the recent period?
-The Armenian-Italian relations have a millennium-old history and deep roots. They have formed and developed over centuries based on our common value system. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, over the past 25 years, the Armenian-Italian relations have developed with spirit of friendship and mutual understanding, as well as have been identified with a number of achievements. There is close cooperation at bilateral format, including in the fields of defense, parliamentary diplomacy, culture, trade-economic, local self-governance and etc.
The contacts and cooperation spheres between the defense ministries of both countries have significantly expanded, including also in international peacekeeping mission. Through the cooperation with Italy, the Armenian platoon carries out its peacekeeping mission in the Italian contingent in the UNIFIL mission deployed in Lebanon since November 2014.
We also attach importance to the role of parliamentary diplomacy in the Armenian-Italian relations. Armenia-Italy friendship group will be formed soon in the newly-elected Parliament of Armenia.
On May 16 a forum dedicated to the 25th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Italy was organized in the Senate of Italy by the efforts of Armenia-Italy inter-parliamentary friendship group and the Armenian Embassy. The forum was entitled “Armenia 25 years: Challenges and Prospects”.
The forum was attended by political figures, diplomats, representatives of community structures of Italy.
The two countries are also actively cooperating in the field of culture. Last year in November, former Foreign Minister, but now Prime Minister of Italy Paolo Gentiloni arrived in Armenia on official visit. Within the frames of the visit a joint statement was signed between the Armenian Foreign Ministry and Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on establishing a regional center for maintenance of cultural heritage. We hope the agreement reached will be implemented soon.
The two countries also carry out active cooperation in multilateral format, within the frames of various international organizations.
-Italy remains one of Armenia’s key partners. What prospects do you see for expanding economic partnership between the two countries?
-As you said Italy is one of Armenia’s key commercial partners which is reflected in the stable growth rates of bilateral trade turnover. In this field, the first session of Armenian-Italian inter-governmental commission which was held in Rome on June 7, 2017 is a significant step. The session was opened by Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and his Italian counterpart Angelino Alfano. During the session both sides outlined the sectors which have great potential and opportunities for cooperation.
The session was followed by Armenian-Italian business forum which was attended by over 180 companies representing various fields of economies of the two countries.
As you know, recently the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership agreement was initialed with the EU in Yerevan which is expected to be signed in November, 2017. This agreement will greatly contribute to boosting commercial ties both with the EU and Italy.
All these, of course, open new prospects for Armenian-Italian economic cooperation, boost partnership in the fields like IT, infrastructure development, energy, services, machinery, agriculture and food processing, promote decentralized cooperation, provide opportunities for developing the mutual partnership in education, culture, tourism and other fields.
-According to your latest data, how much is the trade turnover volume and do the existing figures satisfy?
-It’s important to state that Italy is Armenia’s third trade partner among the EU states. Nevertheless, the trade turnover has great potential for growth and in this sense we have a lot of works to do here for ensuring desirable results. If we speak about concrete volumes of trade turnover, in 2016 it comprised 160 654.5 thousand USD, from which the export amounted to 31 882.2 thousand USD and the import 128 772.3 thousand USD. According to the data of January-April, 2017 the export comprised 8 239.2 thousand USD and the import 39 318.3 thousand USD, whereas last year these numbers were 6 760.2 thousand USD and 35 196.8 thousand USD respectively.
We hope the growth rates will continue in upcoming months as well.
-How do you assess the investment opportunities of the two countries? Are there any outlined projects?
-In recent years significant reforms have been carried out aimed at improving business environment, creating more favorable conditions for foreign investments thanks to the efforts of the Armenian Government. This resulted in improving Armenia’s ranking in various international reports. Armenia is ranked 38 in the list of 190 countries of the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2017” report. If we look at Heritage foundation’s “Economic freedom index 2017”, we will see that at the moment Armenia is ranked 33 in the list of 180 countries.
Armenia has investments promotion and protection agreements with 41 countries, including also with Italy.
Armenia adopted the new tax code, simplified the administrative procedures by creating more favorable conditions for businessmen and investors.
Being as a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Armenia can be a unique bridge between the EAEU and the European Union, as well as between Iran and the Middle East. The Italian investor can enter the EAEU market of 180 million without customs fee through Armenia. Armenia also uses the EU’s GSP+ privileged trade regime.
These figures, of course, increase Armenia’s reputation and inspire trust on potential investor to come and make investments in Armenia.
-What opportunities do Armenia and Italy have in terms of tourism development? What can be attractive in Armenia for Italian tourists and vice versa?
-Armenia and Italy have rich historical-cultural heritage. In recent period the inflow of Italian tourists to Armenia has significantly increased. In January-May, 2017 30% growth was registered compared to 2016.
The Italian tourist in Armenia is interested in the country’s old history, tasty cuisine and hospitality. Armenia can become a center of pilgrimage as a first country that adopted Christianity as a state religion. Italians will also be interested in Armenia’s ecotourism, mountainous tourism, agrotourism, extreme tourism, healthcare tourism.
The Armenian tourists in Italy are attracted by its historical-cultural sites, as well as the best beach resort conditions. In terms of number of tourists Italy is ranked 5th in the world.
-Let’s talk about the Armenian community, its role in Italy’s public-political life. How much is the number of Armenians in Italy and in which spheres they are mainly represented?
-Currently over 5000 Armenians live in Italy, mainly in Milan, Rome, Venice, Genoa, Bologna and Turin.
Armenians are actively engaged in Italy’s public and cultural life. ‘Serapian’ brand is based in Italy which is engaged in production of leather goods. The owner is ethnic Armenian Artavazd Serapian. There are also other renowned figures, and this list can continue expanding.
-In your opinion, what are the main problems faced by the Armenian community?
-Like in numerous other countries having an Armenian community, in Italy as well the major problem faced by the community is the maintenance of Armenian identity. A number of community structures in Italy have their significant contribution to this issue.
-Are high-level mutual visits planned for this year?
-Of course, there will be high-level mutual visits in future, however, they are still at discussion stage and it is early to announce them.
-Mrs. Ambassador, what is planned in the Embassy’s agenda for 2017? In particular, in what direction currently the Embassy carries out active works?
-In mid 2017 the agenda of the Embassy was very active and full of events which will continue also in the upcoming months. As I said, on June 7 the first session of the Armenian-Italian inter-governmental commission was held in Rome. At the end of the session a protocol on cooperation at different spheres was signed, and the Embassy carries out daily work to implement all provisions of the protocol as soon as possible.
The Embassy receives letters from businessmen with a proposal to cooperate with their state and private sector partners.
We will celebrate the 26th anniversary of independence of Armenia in Rome in autumn. A number of community events, regional visits are also expected.
Interview by Anna Gziryan