By Abdul Kerimkhanov
Launching a free trade zone (FEZ) in Armenia’s Meghri region, a small town on the country’s border with Iran, is unlikely today, Head of Meghri united community Mkhitar Zakaryan said on October 14.
The first stage of the FEZ project in Meghri was scheduled to commence in 2018, and to be completed by 2020. However, not much progress has been made so far.
Zakaryan believes that right now the FEZ idea is impossible to implement due to the fact that there is even no electricity and water in this area.
As he emphasized, if an entrepreneur decides to invest several million in the FEZ, no one will be able to present him the conditions and even talk about the rules in this zone, since there is no developed charter and designated canons in place with regards to the FEZ.
Zakaryan noted that the land issue also interferes with the FEZ launch, in particular, the criminal case on illegally held auctions for the acquisition of land. In this context, he added that the Meghri community is ready to donate its lands to the zone only if it is a state entity.
Although officially Meghri FEZ was opened in December 2017, so far, no company on the area has been operating. The telephone number of the "Meghri FEZ" management company is disconnected, while the office of this enterprise, which was previously located in the building of the Armenian Ministry of Economy, is closed.
It is noteworthy that a criminal case has been launched into the case of abuse in Meghri FEZ. The head of the community, located next door to the FEZ, embezzled 32 hectares of land back in 2014 for 2.5 million drams ($5,237), and in 2016 the village headman sold fake 1.4 hectares for 2 million drams ($4,190).
Commenting on the Meghri FEZ future in mid-September 2019, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said he had visited the area in 2018 and learned that it had no land plots. He said the Meghri zone had attracted few Armenian, Iranian and other firms so far because former government officials and their cronies had privatized land plots in and around the zone at disproportionately low prices obstructing economic activity there.
Earlier, Mohsen Rahimi, Commercial Attache of the Embassy of Iran to Armenia, said that no active steps have been taken for Meghri FEZ functioning.
Thus, it can be stated that the activities of both current and previous Armenian government to improve the investment climate in the country were ineffective.
Until recently, Armenia had pinned hopes on Meghri FEZ located on the border with Iran. The Armenian side advertised the FEZ as a link between Iran and the EAEU space. However, Yerevan still cannot find an answer to the question of how the EAEU countries can use the Armenian services.
Over the past two decades, Armenia has been economically isolated from the outside world due to its continued occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, which has resulted in closing of the country’s borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey. The country continues to lose transit opportunities because of its hostile relations with its neighbours.
Abdul Kerimkhanov is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow him on Twitter: @AbdulKerim94
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