US Government has provided $ 3 billion assistance to the development of democracy and economy in Armenia

“Business Attache” is hosting Benjamin Burnes, Economic and Commercial Officer of the US Embassy in Armenia.

What great accomplishments were achieved as a result of our firm partnership and the three-decade productive cooperation?  

First, I would like to thank the Economic Journalists’ Club for this interview.  I appreciate this opportunity to engage with you and your readers. 

We opened the first U.S. Embassy in Yerevan in 1992, just after Armenia’s independence.  However, the U.S.-Armenia partnership goes back much longer than that.  In 1988, the United States assisted in the recovery from the devastating Spitak earthquake. Last April, President Biden remembered the lives of those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide.  While mourning the tragedy, he also highlighted the countless ways Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States. Over the last 30 years, our shared democratic values have been the cornerstone of our partnership with Armenia and we can point to many shared accomplishments that have furthered our cooperation.  We have partnered with Armenia, in nearly all sectors, furthering Armenia’s economic resilience, and helping make it a more democratic society. In the field of education, for example, AUA was stood up with U.S. assistance. It now serves not only as an institution of academic excellence but also a beacon of western values through the region.

We have also worked with several international tech companies, including IBM and Microsoft, to establish IT centers of excellence in partnership with local universities. These centers and the programs serve as incubators for young entrepreneurs.  Importantly, these institutions continue to function without direct support from the US government.

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Photos by Edgar Danghyan

US government has implemented various humanitarian, educational, technical support and advisory projects. How effective were these projects? 

Since 1992, the U.S. government has provided nearly 3 billion dollars in assistance funding to improve the lives of the Armenian people, supporting their efforts to bolster Armenian democratic and economic development. Several U.S. agencies and departments have contributed to these efforts. For example, the first Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Armenia in the winter of 1992.  Since then, more than 1,100 PCVs have served in villages and cities around Armenia.

Our current assistance in Armenia is focused on advancing a democratic reform agenda, promoting the rule of law, fostering economic prosperity, and providing humanitarian assistance. The State Department has provided more than $50 million to Armenia in assistance focused on supporting law enforcement reforms and the creation of new anti-corruption institutions.  We are proud, for example, of our support to the new patrol police service and continue to help train and equip new patrol officers, at the Armenian government’s request.The U.S. Department of Energy has provided assistance in several areas, including direct assistance to maintain the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant. 

The U.S. Department of Defense has also provided defense and security capacity building.The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration has also invested nearly $27 million to support the safe and secure removal of unused radioactive sources.The US Department of State Export Control and Border Security Program has provided technical assistance in equipment donation and training for the Armenian Customs Department.

To answer your question, we believe these projects have been quite impactful.  And, importantly, our assistance comes at the request of the Armenian government. 

Do you consider the current level of Armenian-American economic relations to be sufficient and what is required for deepening these relations? Which are the most realistic and profitable spheres of economic cooperation between our countries?  

American companies bring not only their financial investment to Armenia, but also American values, including transparent and open business practices. The quality, not just quantity, of American firms operating in Armenia is what makes the difference.I believe our two countries can continue to deepen economic relations in all sectors.  In particular, agriculture, renewable energy, and high-tech are areas we believe there are numerous opportunities for collaboration. Our two countries have also furthered our commercial collaboration by signing a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement in 2015.  The agreement established a United States-Armenia Council on Trade and Investment to discuss bilateral trade and investment and related issues. 

The American Chamber of Commerce has operated in Armenia since 2000.  AmCham has made great progress toward their goals of enhancing U.S.-Armenia business relations and improving the business and investment climate in the country. Of course, as the United States’ economic and commercial representative in Armenia, I would love to see increased American investment and bilateral trade.  I am hopeful that 2022 will see the end of COVID, which should open up more economic opportunities.

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During these years US Embassy has supported Armenia in engaging American investments, creating vacancies, and improving the living standards of people. We would like to know your opinion on this and what projects are there for the coming years?   

Our assistance agencies have worked for many years in helping to develop economic opportunities for individuals and communities.Our USAID Mission has provided more than 1 billion dollars to support rule of law, accountable governance and improved management of natural resources.Last fall USAID completed a six-year program that transformed the government’s understanding of water levels and usage in the Ararat Valley. Building this capacity has given Armenia the tools to properly manage this critical natural resource in one of Armenia’s most important agricultural zones.Looking forward, USAID has just launched a new workforce development project which is helping to address the mismatch between the needs of employers and the skill set of youth entering the workforce. Since 2009, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Commercial Law Development Program has sought to create a better business enabling environment, promote new and diversified trade and investment opportunities, and improved the commercial legal framework in Armenia. This year, the program will assist Armenian institutions in developing policies and best practices in competition and procurement; develop small and medium enterprises through franchising; and promote corporate governance.

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The development of tourism is one of the priorities of Armenia. In your opinion, what opportunities and objectives are in this field in our country? 

Armenia is a culturally rich, historic, and beautiful country.  The country has made significant progress in the tourism industry but there are still many opportunities.The U.S. government’s Smithsonian institution’s My Armenia project has helped develop Armenia’s tourism sector, while simultaneously providing economic opportunities to rural communities.USAID is also helping the development of Armenia’s wine and agriculture sectors, areas we see a lot of room for further development.

Where do you prefer to have a rest in Armenia? How would you grade the service?  

My family and I have lived in Armenia since 2018.  We have traveled widely and have found many lovely places to visit in Armenia. We especially enjoyed visiting Vayots Dzor and Syunik regions.  We enjoy hiking, and we have found many beautiful landscapes and walking trails in those regions.In general, the service in Armenia is great.  Yerevan has many great restaurants and hotels.  Although, there are fewer facilities outside of the capital, people are incredibly friendly and hospitable. Of course, the food everywhere in Armenia is delicious. 

How would you describe Armenian community in the US? What role does it have in America’s economic, cultural and political life?  

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In my experience, the Armenian community in the United States is quite diverse.  The Armenian community has played an important role in America’s culture and economy – from founding the health company Moderna to winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Most people in Massachusetts – where I’m from – know quite a few Armenians. After high school, I moved to southern California, where – again – the Armenian community is very well known.  In California, Armenians have had a massive economic impact in the development Glendale, in particular, and several other communities in California. Armenian-Americans have organized and come together in different ways to make their voices heard within the U.S. democratic system.The Armenian Caucus on Capitol Hill is an influential entity composed of many elected officials who are not necessarily of Armenian descent, but either represent constituents of Armenian descent and/or believe in causes that matter to Armenian-Americans. Armenians have long had significant cultural influence in the United States.  And, it is noteworthy to consider how diverse that influence is, be it in literature, music, technology or sports.  

Thank you for the interview.