Phew – here at the Embassy we are just recovering from our first Ministerial visit in six years.
Mr Lidington, the Foreign Office’s Minister for Europe, was a great visitor – engaged, full of energy, and really keen to make a difference in UK-Armenian relations. And we are really delighted that we were able to use the Minister’s visit to highlight a couple of key priorities for the Embassy over the next year.
First, promoting Armenia’s closer links to the EU, including through a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA). This would mean aligning EU and Armenian legislation and practice on a whole host of areas, like food standards and customs, potentially opening up the EU market to a lot more Armenian goods, but also making it easier and cheaper to import European goods to Armenia.
Negotiating this won’t be easy – increasing competition for domestic businesses means some tough political decisions. But we are a great champion of the EU’s work with neighbours. It’s the right choice, with huge benefits for both sides.
The second Embassy priority this year is to put lots more energy into commercial links. Promoting British business is at the forefront of our Prime Minister’s mind, and the Olympics has been a great showcase for London and for British brands.
In fact, we have used the Olympics for a PR campaign to promote what we think is ‘GREAT’ about Great Britain: e.g. entrepreneurship, technology and innovation, creativity, green industry, sport, heritage, music, countryside… and of course shopping.
Check out our new graffiti on the Embassy wall. We want to work harder at encouraging everyone to take a fresh look at Britain, and come to Britain to work, invest, study, and have fun.
But how well are we doing in Armenia?
Well, we now have an Armenian British Business Chamber, which has grown from zero to forty companies in two years. There are already a number of well-established, successful British companies in Armenia covering sectors like finance (HSBC), pharmaceuticals (Pharmatek), chemicals and construction materials (Britannia Chemicals).
The presence of British brands on Yerevan’s high street has grown and grown (check out Mothercare, Next, Debenhams, BHS, Tateossian and Burberry). Look out for a few more favourite British brands, famous for quality and value for money, which will be opening over the next few weeks…
But we think we can do better, and we are now planning a business mission for later in the year to introduce some companies in a few sectors to the Armenian market. Areas of interest include:
- Mining – Where British companies and consultancies lead the market in many areas, including environmental assessments.
- IT – The UK specialises in some of the cutting edge R&D in this area and we are keen to see whether the impressive skills base in Armenia is something which could be of interest to British companies.
- Engineering and design consultancy – UK companies have a world-wide reputation for project managing complex construction projects, as some of the fantastic venues at the Olympics have shown. UK companies are already involved in the build for the Sochi Olympics, and we want to encourage them to bid for other key infrastructure projects in the South Caucasus.
- Education – We have some of the world’s best universities, vocational colleges and business education courses, and we want to attract students to the UK (including through scholarships like Chevening), but also export our education overseas. And we speak English pretty well too…
- Finance – The City of London is the world’s premier international centre and has the expertise to offer services in e.g. pension asset management, public/private partnership financing etc.
If you have an idea for an area to develop business links, we would love to hear from you.