YEREVAN. – The UK-Armenia Business Forum was for the first time held in Armenia on June 7. Ten UK companies, led by the UK Prime Minister’s Trade andInvestment Envoy (TIE) to Armenia and Georgia, Mark Pritchard MP, visited Armenia to identify bilateral trade and investment opportunities in renewable energy, infrastructure and urban modernization sectors. In an interview with Armenian News-NEWS.am during the forum Mark Pritchard shared his impresssions about investment climate in Armenia and his expectations from the event.
How do you assess the UK-Armenia business forum? What practical steps do you expect as a result of these meetings?
This is the first UK-Armenia business forum, and it underscores the British embassy's commitment as well as UK government's Department of International Trade and Foreign and Commonwealth Office in ensuring the bilateral trade and investment between our two countries increases, and this is pre and post Brexit. So it is very good news, and I think the very positive summit had a very good turnout today. There have been a lot of business-to-business meetings, and of course, as a trade and investment envoy I met many business leaders today, both new and established. I think there are many positive outcomes today, and I am very pleased that the First Deputy Prime Minister, despite his busy schedule in parliament today, was able to come and gave a keynote speech that was very welcomed by all the attendees.
I think it is an opportunity for Armenia to act as a hub to assist the British companies in operating on the markets in the region. However, that hub will only be sustainable by improved communications and infrastructure. That is why it is important that the North-South Road and both roads and railways improve over the coming years in order they have connectivity through the Black Sea and in other areas as well. Without roads, railway and that connectivity, the hub dream is going to be just a dream. Those roads and railways need to be improved, and that means not only cooperation across the parties here in Armenia, but it needs cross-border cooperation with neighbors, like Georgia.
What are the main challenges that the UK companies face in Armenia? How do you see the ways of overcoming these problems?
I think investment climate is good in Armenia, but as in all countries, including the UK, it can always improve.The UK companies want to come into a democracy that is stable, and that is open and transparent. They want to come into business environment that has low but fair taxes, both business and personal taxes. They also want to come into environment where there is commercial redress, and if there are disputes over contracts or payment, justice is done in an open transparent and fair way. Independent judiciary and commercial courts are very important. I think that the new government’s commitment to bear down on corruption is also very welcome, and people need to know when they are investing here, they are investing in a climate which is ethical and which will allow people receive their profits from their investments that they deserve and perhaps their shareholders deserve.
After his visit to Armenia last year UK Minister for Europe Alan Duncan said that the Good Governance Fund will allocate 4 million pounds for 2017 and 2018 to Armenia, which will help the country on its journey to better government. How will this support contribute to creation of a favorable business climate so that UK companies could enter the Armenian market easily?
Minister of State, Sir Alain Duncan has visited twice within the last twelve months, and I think it again underscores the UK government’s commitment to improving political, diplomatic and trade bilateral relations with Armenia. He first gave a keynote speech in the parliament where he spoke about the additional funding for the Good Governance Fund and, of course, attended the inauguration of the president. I think first of all the Good Governance Fund is there to assist and complement work that the Armenian government, NGOs , charities and businesses should be doing themselves and are doing themselves. I think it needs to be something that is done within Armenia as well as having external support for example through Good Governance Fund which the UK has provided. I think if the issues of transparency and openness and the commercial courts ensuring that the public private partnership arrangements are in place,this will give business confidence to come and invest both with the government and independent financial institutions, such as European Investment Bank, Asian Development Bank.
You have identified specific areas of opportunity ahead of the event. These are the areas of financial services, renewable energy and infrastructure, as well as smart urban modernization. Are UK companies interested in investing in the area of renewable energy? Are there any examples of projects?
We have Bechtel which is a very large engineering company which is very good at power projects, energy project, hydropower. We have some solar renewable companies in the delegation as well. I think there will be some real business out of this delegation, and it is really for each individual company to decide whether to come and invest orto work in joint ventures, or strategic partnership, or alliances here. It will depend on a project, on financing and on the individual companies how they operate. But, certainly, I think renewables and the energy more generally is a growth area for British business in Armenia.
During one of your previous visits, you met with Yerevan Mayor and discussed urban modernization. What issues did you discuss? Have you offered any projects on urban modernization that can be implemented in the near future? Was the matter discussed during the recent forum?
It has been discussed, and the new government I understand wants to devolve more power to the regions and to the municipalities. In our delegation we have such companies as Pilbrow and Partners, QIA Architects and other people that are very good at urban planning and design as well as environmentally friendly and sustainable design. I think that is an area that needs to be looked at. If tourism is going to grow, as it currently is in Armenia, any new construction, whether be roads, energy or urban planning, needs to be done in a sustainable way and in accordance with international standards.