ANIF, Investment Opportunities in Armenia, and the United Arab Emirates
The Specialeurasia platform has published an extensive analysis of Armenia’s economic opportunities. A significant part of the article is dedicated to ANIF’s projects and especially to the strategic cooperation with the companies of the UAE.
Nestled in the Caucasus, since its independence, Armenia has balanced foreign politics linked with the Nagorno-Karabakh and neighbouring Azerbaijan and Turkey, and domestic politics with the purpose of increasing social living conditions and economic development.
Recent events related to the South Caucasus have focused the attention of the international community and media on Armenia because of Baku’s military operations against Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh, which culminated with Stepanakert’s capitulation.
If in foreign politics Yerevan still has to manage relations with Baku, with the hope to reach a peace deal that might guarantee national security, and Ankara, aiming at normalising relations with the Turkish authority, in domestic politics the main goals are maintaining national stability, improving economic development, and attracting foreign direct investments (FDIs).
In October 2022, during SpecialEurasia’s official visit to Yerevan, we discussed with the representatives of the Armenian National Interest Fund (ANIF) the country’s investment opportunities and economic situation.
After a year of monitoring the Armenian economic performance and investment market, this report aims to stress ANIF’s role in promoting FDIs connected to the Armenian economic market and establishing a linking with an emerging economic and investor as the United Arab Emirates.
ANIF and the United Arab Emirates: Background Information
The Armenian National Interests Fund (ANIF), established in 2019, holds the responsibility for consolidating and proficiently overseeing state-owned enterprises within the country. Its core objectives encompass the facilitation of export expansion and the promotion of investments in Armenia, achieved through co-financing substantial projects during their nascent stages.
During our meeting with ANIF representatives, they highlighted that the Fund’s overarching mission is to fortify Armenia’s economic development potential by a commitment to find, discern, and cultivate the country’s investment and business prospects, ultimately yielding mutual gains for the Armenian populace, the nation, and its investors.
Fostering trust among all stakeholders and cultivating a comprehensive understanding of Armenia’s competitive advantages stand as imperative prerequisites in unlocking its economic and investment potential.
ANIF’s involvement in ventures of strategic import fosters economic diversification, augments the value derived from public investments, and fosters confidence among both internal and external investors, establishing Armenia as a steadfast and dependable partner.
Every project is expressly tailored to engender benefits for all stakeholders, while the imperatives of economic, social, and environmental sustainability are held in the highest regard.
On September 18th, 2023, during the Armenia – United Arab Emirates business forum, ANIF announced that the Fund was implementing two infrastructural projects with Emirati companies and institutions.
ANIF’s Executive CEO, Davit Papazian, reported the construction of the “Ayg-1” photovoltaic plant, boasting a capacity of 200 MW, in conjunction with Abu Dhabi’s Masdar company. Additionally, Papazian informed the media that the parties were discussing the construction of the second solar plant, “Ayg-2,” with a commanding capacity of 201 MW.
ANIF’s CEO emphasised the successful project Fly Arna Armenian National Airline, a collaborative effort between ANIF and Air Arabia. Having begun operations in 2022, the airline presently services flights to six distinct destinations, with plans for additional routes in the immediate future.
The company recently achieved a significant milestone by successfully undergoing an IOSA operational safety audit, solidifying its status as the sole entity in Armenia to hold an IOSA safety certificate, a feat of considerable import in the realm of Armenian aviation.
Armenia: Economic Scenario
Armenia possesses several noteworthy strengths that contribute to its economic landscape. The country is endowed with significant mineral resources, including gold, copper, molybdenum, and zinc. Additionally, Armenia benefits from comfortable foreign exchange reserves and a relatively flexible exchange rate for the dram.
It is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and maintains a partnership agreement with the European Union (EU), positioning it strategically in both regional and international trade networks.
Furthermore, Armenia demonstrates a willingness to reform, particularly in areas concerning corruption, justice, and competition, reflecting a commitment to strengthening its economic and legal frameworks.
However, Armenia grapples with certain challenges that warrant consideration. The nation exhibits a significant dependence on mineral exports, which constitute 40% of its total exports and account for 8% of its GDP, despite ongoing efforts to diversify its economic base.
Additionally, Armenia’s reliance on Russia is pronounced, spanning aspects of security, trade, expatriate remittances, and foreign direct investment. The banking system remains heavily dollarised, and a substantial portion of the public debt is denominated in foreign currencies, amounting to 75%.
Moreover, Armenia contends with high and persistent levels of poverty, affecting approximately 30% of its population, along with an unemployment rate of 17%. These factors underscore the need for concerted efforts to address these economic challenges in pursuiting sustained growth and development in Armenia.
Below, we summarised some of the main positive aspects of the Armenian economy and business market:
- Armenia’s geographical position and fiscal system have transformed the country into an interesting market where foreign investors might direct their interests. Indeed, the Armenian government welcomes FIDs and strives to realise and implement economic and fiscal reforms that support local and foreign business activities and enhance the investment climate.
- The country boasts robust human capital, with a highly educated population, positioning itself as an attractive technology market with a competitive labour force.
- Armenia is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), a Moscow-led economic organisation that promotes trade and business and allows the Caucasian republic to get access to a market of over 182 million customers. Armenia has also signed bilateral treaties on reciprocal promotion and protection of investments with 43 countries and has free-trade agreements with Georgia and most of the CIS countries. Following the Ukrainian conflict, many Russian citizens emigrated to the country, which resulted in Armenia’s economic growth.
- Relations between Yerevan and Brussels are based on the EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement. EU interests in Armenia, because of its strategic position and sociocultural and historical connection with several European countries, confirms the Caucasian republic’s potential to become a Eurasian ‘bridge’ capable of linking Europe and Asia. Indeed, the European Union is the second largest Armenian trade partner.
- Investor might benefit from Yerevan’s establishment of four Free Economic Zones:
- The Alliance Free Economic Zone, established in 2012, operates at two strategic locations – RAO Mars and the Yerevan Computer R&D Institute. This zone is dedicated to the production and export of cutting-edge technologies, encompassing electronics, precision engineering, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, information technology, alternative energy, industrial design, and telecommunications.
- The Meridian Free Economic Zone, founded in 2014 at the heart of Yerevan, specialises in the fields of jewellery, diamond cutting, and watchmaking. It serves as a highly effective platform for businesses in these sectors, particularly for non-residents, be they individuals or legal entities. Furthermore, the FEZ offers a distinct advantage with duty-free importation of raw materials, as well as the import of goods into Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) countries bearing a “Made in Armenia” certificate.
- The Meghri Free Economic Zone, established in 2017, is strategically situated on the border with Iran in the Meghri region. Yerevan tailored this area to attract both non-resident and resident companies engaged in agricultural, trade, transport, processing, and tourism endeavours. With the broadest industry coverage among Armenia’s free economic zones, Meghri serves as a pivotal trade bridge connecting Armenia with Iran, EU countries, and the Eurasian Economic Union.
- The ECOS Free Economic Zone in Hrazdan, located 50 kilometres from Yerevan in the Kotayk region, is is geared towards innovation and the development of high technology, with the requisite infrastructure in place to support ICT companies, including those engaged in blockchain technology. This zone embodies Armenia’s commitment to technological advancement and innovation in the global business landscape.
Armenia presents an interesting opportunity for companies and investors seeking to tap into a market with significant potential in a strategic region as the Caucasus.
The Armenian National Interests Fund (ANIF) emerges as a crucial interlocutor for those interested in this Caucasian republic, given its mandate to consolidate and effectively manage state-owned enterprises, promote export growth, and facilitate co-financing in large-scale projects.
Despite ongoing geopolitical tensions that have affected the region, Armenia’s strengths are evident. The country’s significant mineral resources, comfortable foreign exchange reserves, and membership in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and partnership with the European Union (EU) all contribute to a resilient economic foundation.
In this context, the increasing involvement of Emirati companies in Armenia presents an intriguing development. Unlike in Central Asia, where Islam played a significant role in interactions, Abu Dhabi’s engagement in Armenia stems from a different context.
Emirati investments and collaboration with ANIF serve to spotlight the potential and investment prospects within Armenia. European companies, cognisant of Armenia’s strategic geographical location, would be wise to carefully consider and assess these opportunities.
While concerns about tensions with neighbouring Azerbaijan and Turkey may give pause to potential investors, it is noteworthy that recent events in Nagorno-Karabakh have spurred heightened attention and interest in Armenia from European countries, particularly France.
This dynamic underscores a shifting perception of Armenia’s strategic significance and the potential rewards for those willing to navigate the developing landscape.