Over the past several years, Armenia has received respectable rankings in international indices that review country business environments and investment climates. Significant U.S. investments are present in Armenia, most notably ContourGlobal’s acquisition of the Vorotan Hydroelectric Cascade and Lydian International’s efforts to develop a major gold mine. U.S. investors in the banking, energy, pharmaceutical, information technology, and mining sectors, among others, have entered or acquired assets in Armenia. Armenia presents a variety of opportunities for investors, and the country’s legal framework and government policy aim to attract investment, but the investment climate is not without challenges. Obstacles include Armenia’s small market size, relative geographic isolation due to closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan, weaknesses in the rule of law and judiciary, and a legacy of corruption. Net foreign direct investment inflows are low. Armenia is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, a customs union that brings Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia together in an integrated single market. In May 2015, Armenia signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the United States. The TIFA establishes a United States-Armenia Council on Trade and Investment to discuss bilateral trade and investment and related issues. In November 2017, Armenia signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with the European Union, which aims in part to improve Armenia’s investment climate and business environment.
Armenia imposes few restrictions on foreign control and rights to private ownership and establishment. There are no restrictions on the rights of foreign nationals to acquire, establish, or dispose of business interests in Armenia. Business registration procedures are straightforward. According to foreign companies, otherwise sound regulations, policies, and laws are sometimes undermined by problems such as the lack of independence, capacity, or professionalism in key institutions, most critically the judiciary. Armenia does not limit the conversion and transfer of money or the repatriation of capital and earnings. The banking system in Armenia is sound and well-regulated, but investors note that the financial sector is not highly developed. The U.S.-Armenia Bilateral Investment Treaty provides U.S. investors with a variety of protections. Although Armenian legislation offers protection for intellectual property rights, enforcement efforts and recourse through the courts require improvement.
Armenia experienced a dramatic change of government in April/May 2018. Parliamentary elections in December 2018 led to the exit from power of numerous parliamentarians known to have significant business holdings in Armenia and exercise outsized sway over large sections of the economy. An anti-corruption campaign is underway as part of efforts to eliminate systemic corruption. Overall, the competitive environment in Armenia is improving, but several businesses have reported that broader reforms across judicial, tax, customs, health, education, military, and law enforcement institutions will be necessary to shore up these gains. Despite progress in the fight against corruption and improvements in some areas that raise Armenia’s attractiveness as an investment destination, investors claim that numerous concerns remain and must be addressed to ensure a transparent, fair, and predictable business climate. An investment dispute in the country’s mining sector has attracted significant international attention and remains outstanding after several years.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2019||77 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2020||47 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/
|Global Innovation Index||2019||64 of 129||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2018||USD 7 million||http://apps.bea.gov/international/
|World Bank GNI per capita||2018||USD 4,230||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The government of Armenia officially welcomes foreign investment. The Ministry of Economy is the main government body responsible for the development of investment policy in Armenia. Armenia has achieved respectable rankings on some global indices measuring the country’s business climate. Armenia’s investment and trade policy is relatively open; foreign companies are entitled by law to the same treatment as Armenian companies. Armenia has strong human capital and a well-educated population, particularly in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, leading to significant investment in the high-tech and information technology sectors. Many international companies have established branches or subsidiaries in Armenia to take advantage of the country’s pool of qualified specialists and position within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). However, many businesses have identified challenges with Armenia’s investment climate in terms of the country’s small market (with a population of less than three million), relative geographic isolation due to closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan, per capita gross national income of $4,230, and concerns related to weaknesses in the rule of law.
After a dramatic change of government in April/May 2018, major sectors of Armenia’s economy have ostensibly become more open to competition. Large businesses backed by oligarchic interests are notionally less able to draw on government support to prop up their market positions. An anti-corruption campaign was launched after the 2018 change of government, and a series of high-profile cases have resulted as part of efforts to eliminate systemic corruption. These developments serve to improve Armenia’s investment climate and competitive environment, though the fight against corruption needs to be institutionalized in the long term, especially in critical areas such as the judiciary, tax and customs operations, and health, education, military, and law enforcement sectors. Foreign investors are still concerned about the rule of law and equal treatment. U.S companies have also reported that the investment climate is tainted by a failure to enforce intellectual property rights. There have been concerns regarding the lack of an independent and strong judiciary, which undermines the government’s assurances of equal treatment and transparency and reduces access to effective recourse in instances of investment or commercial disputes. Representatives of U.S. entities have raised concerns about the quality of stakeholder consultation by the government with the private sector and government responsiveness in addressing concerns among the business community. The Armenian National Interests Fund and Investment Support Center are responsible for attracting and facilitating inward foreign direct investment.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
There are very few restrictions with regard to limitations on foreign ownership or control of commercial enterprises. There are some restrictions on foreign ownership within the media and commercial aviation sectors. Local incorporation is required to obtain a license for the provision of auditing services.
The Armenian government does not maintain investment screening mechanisms for foreign direct investment, though government approval is required to take advantage of certain tax and customs privileges.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Armenia has traditionally fared well in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report. The government has announced its commitment to addressing deficiencies that prevent Armenia from obtaining a higher ranking. Companies can register electronically at . This single window service was launched in 2011 and allows individual entrepreneurs and companies to complete name reservation, business registration, and tax identification processes all at once. The application can be completed in one day. An electronic signature is needed in order to be able to register online. Foreign citizens can obtain an e-signature and more detailed information from the e-signature portal at . In December 2019, the government launched a new e-regulations platform that provides a step-by-step guide for business and investment procedures. The platform is available at .
The Armenian government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The Armenian government nominally uses transparent policies and laws to foster competition. Some report that Armenia’s new government has pursued a more consistent execution of these laws and policies in an effort to improve market competition and remove informal barriers to market entry, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises. Armenia’s legislation on the protection of competition has been improved with clear definitions and newly introduced concepts on issues such as price manipulation, imposition of fines as a percentage of revenue versus fixed amounts, and penalties for state officials. However, companies regard the efforts of the State Commission for the Protection of Economic Competition (SCPEC) alone as insufficient to ensure a level playing field. They indicate that improvements in other state institutions and authorities that support competition, like the courts, tax and customs, public procurement, and law enforcement, are necessary. Numerous studies observe a continuing lack of contestability in local markets, many of which are dominated by a few incumbents. Banking supervision is relatively well developed and largely consistent with the Basel Core Principles. The Central Bank of Armenia is the primary regulator of the financial sector and exercises oversight over banking, securities, insurance, and pensions. Armenia has adopted IFRS as the accounting standard for enterprises. Data on Armenia’s public finances and debt obligations are broadly transparent, and the Ministry of Finance publishes periodic reports that are available online.
Safety and health requirements, most of them holdovers from the Soviet period, generally do not impede investment activities. Nevertheless, investors consider bureaucratic procedures to be sometimes burdensome, and discretionary decisions by individual officials may present opportunities for petty corruption. A unified online platform for publishing draft legislation was launched in March 2017 and is available at . Proposed legislation is available for the public to view. Registered users can submit feedback and see a summary of comments on draft legislation. However, the time period devoted to public comments is often regarded as insufficient to solicit proper feedback. The results of consultations have not been reported by the government in the past. The government maintains other portals, including and , that make legislation and regulations available to the public. Some regulations that affect Armenia are developed within the Eurasian Economic Commission, the executive body for the EAEU.
International Regulatory Considerations
Armenia is a member of the EAEU and adheres to relevant technical regulations. Armenia’s entry into CEPA will lead it to pursue harmonization efforts with the EU on a range of laws, regulations, and policies relevant to economic affairs. Armenia is also a member of the WTO, and the Armenian government notifies draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Armenia is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement and had already sent category “A”, “B,” and “C” notifications to the WTO.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Armenia has a hybrid legal system that includes elements of both civil and common law. Although Armenia is developing an international commercial code, the laws regarding commercial and contractual matters are currently set forth in the civil code. Thus, because Armenia lacks a commercial court, all disputes involving contracts, ownership of property, or other commercial matters are resolved by litigants in courts of general jurisdiction, which handle both civil and criminal cases. Courts that handle civil matters may be overwhelmed by the volume of cases before them and are frequently seen by the public as corrupt. Despite the ability of courts to use the precedential authority of the Court of Cassation and the European Court of Human Rights, many judges presiding over civil matters do not do so, increasing the unpredictability of civil court decisions in the eyes of investors.
Businesses tend to perceive that many Armenian courts suffer from low levels of efficiency, independence, and professionalism, which drives a need to strengthen the judiciary. According to UNCTAD, rent seeking and inefficiencies are among the key constraints on investing and doing business in Armenia. Very often in proceedings when additional forensic expertise is requested, the court may suspend a case until the forensic opinion is received, a process that can take several months. Businesses have noted that many judges at courts of general jurisdiction may be reluctant to make decisions without getting advice from higher court judges. Thus, the public opinion is that decisions may be influenced by factors other than the law and merits of individual cases. In general, the government honors judgments from both arbitration proceedings and Armenian national courts.
Due to the nature and complexity of commercial and contractual issues and the caseload of judges presiding over civil matters, many matters involving investment or commercial disputes take months or years to work their way through the civil courts. In addition, businesses have complained of the inherent inefficiencies and institutional corruption of the courts. Even though the Armenian constitution provides investors the tools to enforce awards and their property rights, investors claim that there is little predictability in what a court may do.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Basic legal provisions covering foreign investment are specified in the 1994 Law on Foreign Investment. Foreign companies are entitled by law to the same treatment as Armenian companies. A Law on Public-Private Partnership (PPP), adopted in 2019, establishes a framework for the government to attract investment for projects focused on infrastructure. However, Armenia must adopt secondary implementing legislation to clarify key aspects of the PPP framework, including comprehensive criteria for project selection.
The Investment Support Center is Armenia’s national authority for investment and export promotion. It provides information to foreign investors on Armenia’s business climate, investment opportunities, and legislation; supports investor visits; and serves as a liaison for government institutions. More information is available via the Investment Support Center’s .
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
SCPEC reviews transactions for competition-related concerns. Relevant laws, regulations, commission decisions, and more information can be found on SCPEC’s . Concentrations, including mergers, acquisitions of shares or assets, amalgamations, and incorporations, are subject to ex ante control by SCPEC in accordance with the law. Whenever a concentration gives rise to concerns about harm to competition, including the creation or strengthening of a dominant position, SCPEC can prohibit such a transaction or impose certain remedies. However, SCPEC’s investigative powers are understood to be limited, forcing SCPEC to rely primarily on document studies and requesting information from other state institutions. Armenia’s Law on Protection of Economic Competition has been amended several times in recent years to bring Armenia’s competition framework into alignment with EAEU and CEPA requirements.
Expropriation and Compensation
Under Armenian law, foreign investment cannot be confiscated or expropriated except in extreme cases of natural or state emergency upon obtaining an order from a domestic court. According to the Armenian constitution, equivalent compensation is owed prior to expropriation.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Armenia is party to the ICSID Convention (Washington Convention) and Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).
Under Article 5 of the Armenian constitution, international treaties ratified by Armenia take precedence over domestic law.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
According to the Law on Foreign Investment, all disputes that arise between a foreign investor and Armenia must be settled in Armenian courts. A Law on Commercial Arbitration, enacted in 2007, provides a wider range of options for resolving commercial disputes. The U.S.–Armenia BIT provides that in the event of a dispute involving a U.S. investor and the state, the investor may take the case to international arbitration. As of January 2020, two investment disputes brought against Armenia under the U.S.–Armenia BIT were pending with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Commercial disputes may be brought before an Armenian or any other competent court, as provided by law or in accordance with party agreements. Commercial disputes are heard in courts of general jurisdiction. Specialized administrative courts adjudicate cases brought against state entities. Decisions of general and administrative courts may be appealed first to the Civil Court of Appeal and Administrative Court of Appeal, and then to the Civil and Administrative Chamber of the Court of Cassation.
The Law on Arbitration Courts and Arbitration Procedures provides rules governing the settlement of disputes by arbitration. In accordance with the New York Convention and Article 5 of the Armenian constitution, domestic courts must recognize foreign arbitral awards.
Armenia intends to develop an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism that will include mediation and arbitration. ADR could be used not only in commercial matters, including those involving mobile property and secured transactions, but also in cases involving family and labor disputes. While ADR options are available to those who seek alternatives to litigation, they currently are not widely used or trusted.
According to the Law on Bankruptcy adopted in 2006, creditors and equity and contract holders (including foreign entities) have the right to participate and defend their interests in bankruptcy cases. Armenia decided with the passage of a new Judicial Code in 2018 to adopt a new, specialized bankruptcy court, which began operations in 2019. Creditors have the right to access all materials relevant to cases, submit claims to court, participate in meetings of creditors, and nominate candidates to administer cases. Monetary judgments are usually made in local currency. The Armenian Criminal Code defines penalties for false and deliberate bankruptcy, concealment of property or other assets of the bankrupt party, or other illegal activities during the bankruptcy process. UNCTAD observes that Armenia’s framework for bankruptcy procedures needs improvement, adding that insolvency cases are expensive and almost always result in liquidation. Armenia amended its bankruptcy law in December 2019 intended to reduce the cost of bankruptcy proceedings. In addition, premiums have been set for bankruptcy managers for submitting financial recovery plans, as well as for the recovery of a bankrupt person, with the aim of raising rates of financial recovery.
According to the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index, Armenia stands at 95 in the ranking of 190 economies on the ease of resolving insolvency. Resolving insolvency takes 1.9 years on average and costs 11 percent of the debtor’s estate, with the most likely outcome being that the company will be broken up and sold. The average recovery rate is 39.2 cents on the dollar.
4. Industrial Policies
Armenia offers incentives for exporters (e.g. no export duty, VAT refund on goods and services exported) and foreign investors (e.g. income tax holidays, the ability to carry forward losses indefinitely, VAT deferral, and exemptions from customs duties for investment projects). Starting in 2018, the Armenian government began exempting imports of capital investment-related goods from VAT payments at the border. In 2015, the Armenian government began exempting from customs duties investment-related imports of equipment and raw materials from non-EAEU member countries. VAT and customs duties exemptions are implemented by government decisions made on a case-by-case basis. Also, in accordance with the Law on Foreign Investment, several ad hoc incentives may be negotiated on a case-by-case basis for investments that are targeted at certain sectors of the economy or are of strategic interest. The government regularly signs memoranda of understanding or agreement with investors on the development of specific projects.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
In June 2011, Armenia adopted a Law on Free Economic Zones (FEZ), amended in October 2018, and developed several key regulations to attract foreign investments into FEZs: exemptions from VAT, profit tax, customs duties, and property tax. The Alliance FEZ was opened in August 2013 to focus on high-tech industries, including information and communication technologies, electronics, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, architecture and engineering, industrial design, and alternative energy. In 2014, the government expanded operations in the Alliance FEZ to include industrial production. In 2015, the Meridian FEZ, focused on jewelry production, watchmaking, and diamond cutting, opened in Yerevan. The Meghri FEZ, located on Armenia’s border with Iran, opened in 2017. A new FEZ, located in Hrazdan, opened in late 2018 and is focused on the high-tech and information technology sectors. Armenia has signaled an interest in developing logistics hubs, including one in Gyumri, to facilitate goods trade.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
There are no performance requirements for investment in terms of mandating local employment. The processes for obtaining visas, residence, or work permits are straightforward. There are no government-imposed conditions on permission to invest.
Armenia does not follow any policy that would force foreign investors to use domestic content in goods and technology. There are no requirements for foreign information technology providers to turn over source code or provide keys for encryption. There are no requirements to store data within the country.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Armenian law protects secured interests in property, both personal and real. Armenian law provides a basic framework for secured lending, collateral, and pledges and provides a mechanism to support modern lending practices and title registration. According to Armenia’s constitution, foreign citizens are prohibited from owning land, though they may take out long-term leases. In the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business report, Armenia ranked 13th among 190 economies for the ease of registering property. Lack of clear title to land is generally not an issue in Armenia. The World Bank observes that while all land plots in Armenia are mapped, some may not be formally registered with the body responsible for immovable property registration.
Intellectual Property Rights
Armenia has a strong legislative and regulatory framework to protect intellectual property rights (IPR) . Domestic legislation, including the 2006 Law on Copyright and Related Rights, provides for the protection of copyright with respect to literary, scientific, and artistic works (including computer programs and databases), patents and other rights of invention, industrial design, know-how, trade secrets, trademarks, and service marks. The Intellectual Property Agency (IPA) in the Ministry of Economy is responsible for granting patents and overseeing other IPR-related matters. The collective management organization ARMAUTHOR manages authors’ economic rights. Trademarks and patents require state registration by the IPA, but copyright does not. There is no special trade secret law in Armenia, but the protection of trade secrets is covered by Armenia’s Civil Code. Formal registration is straightforward, the database of registered IPR is public, and applications to register IPR are published online for two months for comment by third parties. Armenia’s legislation is in compliance with the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
In 2005, Armenia created an IPR Enforcement Unit in the Organized Crime Department of the Armenian Police, which acts only based on complaints from right holders – it does not exercise ex-officio powers. The Armenian customs authorities track statistics related to the seizure of counterfeit goods, but the public reports are not regularly updated.
Despite the existence of relevant legislation and executive government structures, the concept of IPR remains unrecognized by a large part of the local population. The onus for IPR complaints rests with the offended party. The police assert that the majority of cases are settled through out-of-court proceedings. While the Armenian government has made some progress on IPR issues, strengthening enforcement mechanisms remains necessary. UNCTAD reports that low awareness and poor monitoring of IPR violations harm the business climate.
A new Law on Copyright has been drafted. It includes provisions from new international agreements (Marrakesh and Beijing Treaties) and clarifies numerous provisions in the current law. Proposed legislative amendments to the Law on Patents and the Law on Inventions, Utility Models, and Industrial Designs have been drafted and were submitted by the government to parliament for approval in November 2019. The draft amendments for the Law on Patents strengthens the requirement for substantive examination before rights registration. The draft amendments for the Law on Inventions, Utility Models, and Industrial Designs includes some procedural changes, including publishing applications for industrial designs and objects during the state registration process.
Armenia is not included in USTR’s Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The banking system in Armenia is sound and well-regulated, but the financial sector is not highly developed, according to investors. Banking sector assets account for over 80 percent of total financial sector assets. Financial intermediation tends to be poor. Nearly all banks require collateral located in Armenia, and large collateral requirements often prevent potential borrowers from entering the market. U.S. businesses have noted that this creates a significant barrier for small- and medium-sized enterprises and start-up companies.
The Armenian government welcomes foreign portfolio investment and there is a supporting system and legal framework in place. Armenia’s securities market is not well developed and has only minimal trading activity through the Armenia Securities Exchange, though efforts to grow capital markets are underway. Liquidity sufficient for the entry and exit of sizeable positions is often difficult to achieve due to the small size of the Armenian market. The Armenian government hopes that as a result of pension reforms in 2014, which brought two international asset managers to Armenia, capital markets will play a more prominent role in the country’s financial sector. Armenia adheres to its IMF Article VIII commitments by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Credit is allocated on market terms and foreign investors are able to access credit locally.
Money and Banking System
The banking sector is healthy, and indicators of financial soundness, including capital adequacy ratios and non-performing loan rates, have been broadly strong in recent years. The sector is well capitalized and liquid. Dollarization, historically high for deposits and lending, has been falling in recent years. Non-performing loans have fallen to below 10 percent of total loans. There are 17 commercial banks in Armenia and 14 universal credit organizations. There are extensive branch networks throughout Armenia. At the end of 2019, the top three Armenian banks by estimated total assets were Ameriabank (968 billion Armenian drams (AMD), or USD 2.01 billion), Armbusinessbank (782.1 billion AMD, or USD 1.63 billion), and Ardshinbank (721.7 billion AMD, or USD 1.5 billion). The minimum capital requirement for banks is 30 billion AMD (62.5 million USD). There are no restrictions on foreigners to open bank accounts. Residents and foreign nationals can hold foreign currency accounts and import, export, and exchange foreign currency relatively freely in accordance with the Law on Currency Regulation and Currency Control. Foreign banks may establish a subsidiary, branch, or representative office, and subsidiaries of foreign banks are allowed to provide the same types of services as domestically-owned banks.
The Central Bank of Armenia (CBA) is responsible for the regulation and supervision of the financial sector. The authority and responsibilities of the CBA are established under the Law on Central Bank of Armenia. Numerous other articles of legislation and supporting regulations provide for financial sector oversight and supervision.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Armenia has no limitations on the conversion and transfer of money or the repatriation of capital and earnings, including branch profits, dividends, interest, royalties, or management or technical service fees. Most banks can transfer funds internationally within two to four days. Armenia maintains the Armenian dram as a freely convertible currency under a managed float. The AMD/USD exchange rate has proven generally stable in recent years, though it has not been without occasional sharp movements.
According to the Law on Currency Regulation and Currency Control, prices for all goods and services, property, and wages must be set in AMD. There are exceptions in the law, however, for transactions between resident and non-resident businesses and for certain transactions involving goods traded at world market prices. The law requires that interest on foreign currency accounts be calculated in that currency, but paid in AMD.
Armenia imposes no limitations on the conversion and transfer of money or the repatriation of capital and earnings, including branch profits, dividends, interest, royalties, lease payments, private foreign debt, or management or technical service fees.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Armenia does not have a sovereign wealth fund.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Most of Armenia’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) were privatized in the 1990s and early 2000s, but SOEs are still active in a number of sectors. SOEs in Armenia operate as state-owned closed joint stock companies that are managed by the Department of State Property Management and state non-commercial organizations. There are no laws or rules that ensure a primary or leading role for SOEs in any specific industry. Armenia is party to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement, and SOEs are covered under that agreement. SOEs in Armenia are subject to the same tax regime as their private competitors, and private enterprises in Armenia can compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions. The Department of State Property Management maintains a public list of state-owned closed joint stock companies on its .
Most of Armenia’s state owned enterprises were privatized in the 1990s and early 2000s. Many of the privatization processes for Armenia’s large assets were reported to be neither competitive nor transparent, and political considerations in some instances prevailed over fair tender processes. The current law on privatization, the fifth, is the Law on the 2017–2020 Program for State Property Privatization, which lists 47 entities for privatization. The Department of State Property Management oversees the management of the state’s shares in entities slated for privatization. Details of the privatization program are available on the Department of State Property Management .
8. Responsible Business Conduct
There is not a widespread understanding of responsible business conduct (RBC) in Armenia, but several larger companies with foreign ownership or management are introducing the concept. Initiatives, where they do exist, are primarily limited to corporate social responsibility efforts. However, RBC programs that do exist are viewed favorably. Some civil society groups and business associations are playing a more active role to promote RBC and develop awareness. Armenia joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in March 2017 as a candidate country. The first EITI national report for Armenia was published in January 2019. As part of its EITI membership aspirations, the government in March 2018 adopted a roadmap to disclose beneficial owners in the metal ore mining industry. Relevant implementing legislation, including for beneficial ownership disclosure, was adopted in 2019.
Major pillars of corporate governance in Armenia include the Law on Joint Stock Companies, the Law on Banks and Banking Activity, the Law on Securities Market, and a Corporate Governance Code. International observers note inconsistencies in this legislation and generally rate corporate governance practices as weak to fair. Specific areas for potential improvement cited by the local business community include improving internal and external auditing for firms, enhancing the powers of independent directors on company boards, and boosting shareholders’ rights. Armenia has outlined commitments to corporate governance reforms, including with regard to mandatory audit, accounting, and financial reporting, within the context of an ongoing Stand-By Arrangement with the International Monetary Fund.
Domestic laws and regulations related to labor, employment rights, consumer protection, and environmental protection are not always enforced effectively. These laws and regulations cannot be waived to attract foreign investment.
After a peaceful revolution in April/May 2018, the Armenian government has made eradicating corruption on of its highest priorities. The government’s anti-corruption agenda is outlined in a 2019–2022 strategy and implementation plan. These documents establish a new anti-corruption institutional framework with separate entities tasked with preventive and investigative functions, set out specific measures for strengthening these functions, and prioritize strategic communication and public education to give citizens ownership of anti-corruption reforms.
The government has increased corruption investigations against mid- and high-level government officials, including those appointed by the current government, since the revolution. Numerous high-ranking officials have stated publicly that corruption within their respective institutions will no longer be tolerated. Though some report that the government has mainly targeted ex-government officials in corruption investigations, there is no indication that Armenia’s anti-corruption laws are being applied by the post-revolutionary government in a discriminatory manner. Armenia’s anti-corruption laws extend to all Armenian citizens.
Corruption remains a significant obstacle to U.S. investment in Armenia, particularly as it relates to critical areas such as the justice system and concerns related to the rule of law, enforcement of existing legislation and regulations, and equal treatment. Investors claim that the health, education, military, corrections, and law enforcement sectors lack transparency in procurement and have in the past used selective enforcement to elicit bribes. Judges presiding over civil matters are still widely perceived by the public to be corrupt and under the influence of former authorities. Although bribery is illegal in Armenia, the government does not actively encourage private companies to establish internal codes of conduct. Several multinational companies, select local companies, and foreign and local companies working with international financial institutions have implemented corporate governance mechanisms to tackle corruption internally. However, such corporate governance principles are not widely implemented among local companies.
According to Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, Armenia received a score of 42 out of 100, ranking it 77th among 180 countries. This reflects an improvement by 28 places over 2018.
Armenia’s ability to counter, deter, and prosecute corruption is noted to be hindered by the lack of robust enforcement of official disclosure laws meant to prevent corrupt officials from entering and retaining positions of authority and influence. The objective and systematic scrutiny of declarations by government officials has historically been lacking due to dysfunction within the Commission on Ethics of High-Ranking Officials and the delayed establishment of the Corruption Prevention Commission, which inherited this responsibility. According to international evaluations, Armenian authorities have limited capacities to investigate money laundering and bring such cases to prosecution.
Various laws, some updated as recently as 2018, prohibit the participation of civil and municipal servants, as well as local government elected officials such as mayors and councilors, in commercial activities. However, powerful officials at the national, district, and local levels often acquire direct, partial, or indirect control over private firms. Such control is often exercised through a hidden partner or majority ownership of fully private parent companies. This involvement can also be indirect, including through close relatives and friends. According to foreign investors, these practices reinforce protectionism, hinder competition, and undermine the image of the government as a facilitator of private sector growth. Because of the historical strong interconnectedness of the political and economic spheres, Armenia has often struggled to introduce legislation to encourage strict ethical codes of conduct and the prevention of bribery in business transactions. In 2016, Armenia adopted legislation on criminal penalties for illicit enrichment and noncompliance or fraud in filing declarations.
Armenia is a member of the UN Convention against Corruption. While not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, Armenia is a member of the OECD Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia and has signed the Istanbul Action Plan. A monitoring report released by the OECD in 2018 cited Armenia’s lack of enforcement of anti-corruption laws, together with the continued presence of oligopolistic interests in the economy, as points of serious concern. The report contains a series of recommendations, including to take bold measures to ensure judicial and prosecutorial independence and integrity, introduce corporate liability for corruption offenses, investigate and prosecute high-profile and complex corruption cases, and increase transparency and strengthen monitoring in public procurement. Armenia is also a member of the global Open Government Partnership initiative.
No specific law exists to protect NGOs dealing with anti-corruption investigations.
Resources to Report Corruption
For investigating corruption:
Investigation Department of Corruption, Organized and Official Crimes
Special Investigation Service of Armenia
13A Vagharsh Vagharshyan Street
+374 11 900 002
For prosecuting corruption:
Head of Department for Combating Corruption and Economic Crimes
RA Prosecutor General’s Office
5 V. Sargsyan Street
+374 10 511 655
For financial and asset declarations of high-level officials:
Corruption Prevention Commission
24 Baghramyan Street
Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center
12 Saryan Street
+374 10 569 589
10. Political and Security Environment
Armenia has a history of political demonstrations, some of which have turned into violent confrontations between the police and protesters. However, the frequency of violent protests has significantly decreased. The last major violent protest occurred in July 2016, when an armed group, Sasna Tsrer, stormed and occupied a police compound in Yerevan. Three police officers were killed as a result. During the two-week standoff that followed, Sasna Tsrer took hostage additional police and medical personnel, demanding political changes. During the standoff, demonstrations in support of Sasna Tsrer took place in Yerevan and clashes between law enforcement officers and protesters occurred. These clashes did not pose any damage to businesses. In 2018, Armenia experienced a peaceful revolution that led to a change of government. Acts of peaceful civic disobedience in Yerevan and some other cities led to street closures, including on the road to Yerevan’s international airport, but did not impede the ordinary functioning of business or harm the country’s macroeconomic stability. These actions did not result in any damage to projects or installations. It is unlikely that civil disturbances, should they occur, would be directed against U.S. businesses of the U.S. community.
Casualties continue to occur in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Intermittent gunfire and the occasional use of artillery systems, land mines, and mortars result in deaths and injuries each year along the line of contact and the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Engaging in commercial activities inside the Nagorno-Karabakh region can make it difficult to conduct business inside Azerbaijan or with the Azerbaijani government. The Azerbaijani government has suspended or threatened to suspend the operations of U.S. companies in Azerbaijan whose products or services are provided in Nagorno-Karabakh and has banned the entry into Azerbaijan of some persons who have visited Nagorno-Karabakh. The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in the Nagorno-Karabakh region as U.S. government employees are restricted from traveling there. There have been no threats to commercial enterprises from violence along the line of contact or the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Armenia’s human capital is one of its strongest resources. The labor force is generally well educated, particularly in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Almost one hundred percent of Armenia’s population is literate. According to official information, enrollment in secondary school is over 90 percent, and enrollment in senior school (essentially equivalent to American high school) is about 85 percent. Despite this, official statistics indicate a high rate of unemployment, at around 18 percent. Unemployment is particularly pronounced among women and youth, and significant underemployment is also a problem.
Considerable foreign investment in Armenia has occurred in the high-tech sector. High-tech companies have established branches or subsidiaries in Armenia to take advantage of the country’s pool of qualified specialists in electrical and computer engineering, optical engineering, and software design. There is a shortage of workers with vocational training. About 20 percent of the non-agricultural workforce is employed in the informal economy, primarily in the services sector. Armenian law protects the rights of workers to form and to join independent unions, with exceptions for personnel of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies. The law also provides for the right to strike, with the same exceptions, and permits collective bargaining. The law stipulates that workers’ rights cannot be restricted because of membership in a union. It also differentiates between layoffs and firing with severance. According to some reports, labor organizations remain weak because of employer resistance, high unemployment, and unfavorable economic conditions; collective bargaining is not common in Armenia. Experts observe that the right to strike, although enshrined in the constitution, is difficult to realize due to mediation and voting requirements. However, since the 2018 change of government, there have been consistent reports of grassroots movements to create unions in various spheres, including for doctors, teachers, and academics. Still, traditional labor unions are generally inactive with the exception of those connected with the mining and chemical industries. Labor laws cannot be waived to retain or attract investment.
The current Labor Code is considered to be largely consistent with international standards. The law sets a standard 40-hour work week, with 20 days of mandatory annual paid leave. However, there are consistent reports that many private sector employees, particularly in the service sector, are unable to obtain paid leave and are required to work more than eight hours a day without additional compensation. The treatment of labor in FEZs is no different than elsewhere in the country. Employers are generally able to adjust employment in light of fluctuating market conditions. Severance in general does not exceed 60 working days. Benefits for workers laid off for economic reasons are mostly limited to receiving qualification trainings and job search assistance.
Individual labor disputes can usually be resolved through courts; however, the courts are often overburdened, causing significant delays. Collective labor disputes should be resolved through collective bargaining. Armenia’s Health and Labor Inspection Body (HLIB) has a mandate to monitor health and occupational safety issues. In July 2019, following the appointment of new leadership, HLIB began to implement a series of actions to draft and adopt regulations and legislation in order to restart HLIB’s oversight on labor issues. These changes include the development of risk assessment methodologies, hiring additional staff, and approving the checklists required by law to undertake inspections. The fast pace of HLIB’s activities and the plan to increase the number of inspectors by as much as four times by the end of 2020 has been made possible by changes to labor legislation that give HLIB the responsibility for oversight over all Labor Code provisions from 2021 onward.
Amendments to the Labor Code that entered into force in 2015 clarified the procedures for making changes in labor contracts and further specified the provisions required in labor contracts, notably those relating to probationary periods, vacation, and wage calculations.
The current legal minimum wage is AMD 68,000 (approximately USD 135) per month. Most companies pay an unofficial extra-month bonus for the New Year’s holiday. Wages in the public sector are often significantly lower than those in the private sector.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs
The United States and Armenia have an investment incentive agreement, signed in 1992, that serves to mobilize private capital via the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). DFC can help solve critical development challenges by mobilizing private capital as well as providing investors with financing, guarantees, political risk insurance, and support for private equity investment funds. DFC’s predecessor organization, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, has been involved in several projects in Armenia, including the expansion of the Armenia Marriott Hotel in Yerevan and lending operations at several financial institutions. In 2019, OPIC concluded a deal to extend USD 10 million in financing to First Mortgage Company to expand the origination of long-term home mortgage loans. Armenia is a member of the World Bank Group’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Source for Host Country Data: Statistical Committee of the Republic of Armenia
|Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||5,072||100%||Total Outward||232||100%|
|North Macedonia||334||6.6%||United States||3||1.3%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
Source: IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) (2018)
A significant portion of outward investment is not specified by destination in the CDIS.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.
14. Contact for More Information
Economic & Commercial Officer
U.S. Embassy Yerevan
American Avenue 1
+374 10 494 200