Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, Government Officials, Mr. AmCham President, members of the AmCham Board of Directors, Distinguished Guests, I am delighted to be here today.
The Embassy has no better partner in Armenia for promoting trade and economic growth than the Chamber, and I want to thank AmCham for hosting this event. I have only been in Armenia for five weeks and I am delighted that my first opportunity to share my economic priorities is at this event. As a career diplomat, I have spent a significant amount of time working on economic issues. In all the countries where I have worked, the relationship between the Embassy and AmCham has been exceptional. I look forward to continuing that tradition here in Armenia.
Since Armenia’s independence, the U.S. has provided $3 billion dollars in assistance, which has allowed us to work together to build strong democratic institutions, advance the rule of law, expand access to education, invest in people through exchange and entrepreneurship programs, reduce corruption, and unlock economic opportunities.
During my time in Armenia, I intend to continue to deepen the bilateral relationship and increase these shared successes.
Despite the challenges, I hear that Armenians are optimistic about the future – particularly in the business sector. This optimism is a demonstration of the energy and enthusiasm that Armenian entrepreneurs are known for around the world. Indeed, being from Fresno, California, I grew up knowing Armenian-American innovators and I am thrilled to be here now, as the U.S. Ambassador, to support, promote and strengthen Armenia’s vibrant economy.
Tonight, I want to begin by sharing the economic priorities I intend to focus on during my time as Ambassador here.
First and foremost, I hope to deepen the business and trade relations between our two countries. Strengthening our commercial ties will benefit both our economies. This isn’t new; the United States and Armenia have long pursued expansion of our trade and investment relationship. What is new is an increased desire by Armenian companies to explore new and diverse markets—including in the United States—and increased opportunities for U.S. companies to do business in a range of sectors in Armenia.
To support these types of trade opportunities, it is important for the private sector and the government to work together to continue efforts to lower barriers to trade. To that end, I will prioritize working with the government of Armenia to improve trade regulations, legal regimes, and customs laws. One way that we have worked on resolving these issues in the past was through the U.S.-Armenia Council on Trade and Investment, also known as the “TIFA Council.”
This platform is ideal for discussing key trade topics related to customs, intellectual property rights, non-tariff trade barriers, and government procurement. Working with the Armenian government, I hope to revive this platform, which has slowed in recent years.
We have a string of high-level visits this spring to help advance these objectives. To reinvigorate the “TIFA Council,” the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative will be visiting Armenia the week after next. I know our Trade Representative also looks forward to meeting with AmCham to discuss TIFA-related issues and to learn more about the challenges facing your companies.
We also expect the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Assistant Secretary for Global Markets to lead a delegation to Armenia in April. The Assistant Secretary will announce an exciting new partnership between the Commerce and State Departments that will increase our ability to support U.S. trade and investment in Armenia.
The Assistant Secretary’s visit will also coincide with the U.S.-Armenia Strategic Dialogue economic working group, which will allow the Assistant Secretary to join this important discussion.
At last year’s Strategic Dialogue Capstone in Washington, Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Mirzoyan (Meer-Zoe-Yan) signed a Civil Nuclear Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding. This MOU enables the United States and Armenia to deepen our strategic cooperation and strengthen ties between our countries’ nuclear experts and researchers. The MOU also allows for increased opportunities for new investments in Armenia. The U.S. government is in talks now to consider funding that will further operationalize this MOU, and we hope the U.S. private sector will be involved in more energy sector opportunities.
In addition to discussion on energy and economic issues, the Assistant Secretary also looks forward to engaging directly with private sector representatives during his visit.
One of the key areas we’re looking at, when exploring ways of expanding our business ties, is the prospect of boosting U.S. direct investment in Armenia. The Lydian mining project at
Amulsar is one example of an investment that can serve as a significant driver of growth for Armenia’s economy. Lydian’s commitment to upholding the highest international labor and environmental standards sets a good example for future investors. We were pleased to see the recent MOU signing between the government and Lydian, and we hope to see operations restart soon.
Another significant U.S. investor in Armenia has been ContourGlobal’s purchase and operation of the Vorotan Hydropower Cascade. Since 2015, ContourGlobal has contributed to Armenia’s production of reliable, homegrown power. The company also represents to other multinational firms that Armenia is a reliable and lucrative investment destination.
Many U.S. high-tech companies have set up world class operations in Armenia. The United States has been an important contributor to the high-tech sector’s growth and development in Armenia through partnerships with Microsoft, National Instruments, and IBM. And when these companies come to Armenia, they help connect Armenia with the broader region and the world.
I would also like to say a few words about sanctions because I know that this topic is important to your businesses. First, I want to state that the U.S. government recognizes and appreciates Armenia’s efforts in respecting the international community’s sanctions targeting Russia and Iran. We realize that compliance comes at a cost.
We also recognize that U.S. sanctions and export-control regulations can be complicated. To increase transparency and provide you and the government the clarity you’ve asked for, we are expecting several more official visits this spring from our Treasury and Commerce Department representatives responsible for implementing export controls and sanctions. In addition to government meetings, we expect these visitors to engage directly with AmCham. We hope that these visits will help clarify guidelines so that you can confidently carry on with your business without fear of repercussions.
Again, I want to reiterate how happy I am to be in Armenia. I truly believe that we are poised and ready to increase our shared economic and commercial interests. I promise to maintain robust engagement with you. And I know that engaging with you will help me gain a deeper understanding of the issues that affect your businesses. For all of you running for Board seats this evening, I wish you the best of luck. Thank you.