Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan wants his government to create an environment that welcomes creative and entrepreneurial minds. But, as he tells Courtney Fingar, he is also determined to ensure that the country’s population is on board with whatever changes lie ahead.
PM Karen Karapetyan’s full interview with the Financial Times’ FDI magazine is provided below:
Q: What are the immediate priorities that you want to address as prime minister?
A: Frankly, the work of the prime minister assumes that everything is a priority. Economic growth, social issues, healthcare and the fight against corruption: one could not say that this area is a priority and the other one is secondary. Perhaps the difference between the actions and the job of the prime minister and a businessman is that you do not have the luxury of prioritising and focusing only on the most important issues. Here’s what I think is our first major task – we need to establish contact with society so that our nation understands, believes and responds to the signals that we send. This relates to the businesses and larger public. It will be much easier for us to improve the situation, when our nation is our ally and supports the programmes that we propose.
Q: What economic initiatives or plans do you have?
A: We have already presented a government programme where we have outlined what we are going to do. There are a few major topics I want to highlight. Number one, we need to create a truly free, competitive and fair business environment. We are confident that our nation’s potential for creativeness and business acumen would allow our businesses to grow really fast in such an environment. In addition, if we send clear signals, then foreign investors would respond to that as well and would enter our market if they are comfortable with the rules of the game.
Second, considering our current economic condition, we will stimulate the businesses, perhaps not in a very conventional way for the government. We are going to create funds that will be providing financing to different sectors, for example, the agriculture sector, IT, SMEs and so on.
Third, we will create a centre for strategic initiatives, where, with the involvement of talented private and public sector representatives, we will be discussing and developing long-term strategies, programmes and reforms and, ultimately, deciding in which direction Armenia will be moving.
To summarise, we will create the most favourable and comfortable conditions for creative and hard-working individuals and we will demonstrate to them the horizons of our future, so that everyone engages in building that future. We want to show everyone the country of our dreams.
Q: Where does FDI fit into your economic plans and are you planning any privatisations of any industries?
A: FDI is extremely important to us, not only because it will affect economic growth and bring in more investments, but also because it will bring in a new management culture, and demonstrate the openness of our country, which will certainly have a positive multiplying effect on other areas of our life, such as tourism.
When it comes to privatisation, I think Armenia is one of the most liberal countries among the post-Soviet countries. There is really very little state property. However, I am confident that private management is always better than public. It reduces corruption risks, increases efficiency, etc. Therefore, our intention is to transfer everything that has business logic, except for very specific areas such as security and defence, either through privatisation or submission for management.
I think our IT/hi-tech industry is very interesting and attractive – it has fantastic potential and opportunities. Our agriculture, jewellery, mining, light industry, energy and tourism sectors also have big potential of attracting foreign investment.
Q: The geopolitics of the region are tricky. How are you dealing with this delicate situation and how can you increase economic integration despite this?
A: When it comes to our foreign policy, we will definitely send a signal, through our actions and policies, that we are very honest and frank with our partners. We are not going to be co-operating with one country to the detriment of other countries. The size of our country and our neighbouring countries brings us to the idea that we really need to focus on stimulating regional co-operation. From that perspective, I think that regional co-operation will open new opportunities for our businesses.
We also need to convince everyone that we are a very tolerant nation, though everyone knows us as a party to a conflict [a border dispute with Azerbaijan]. I think our lifestyle is proof of that, since about three-quarters of our nation is living abroad and serve as law-abiding citizens of other countries. We have suffered enough from wars to be very sensitive about the value of peace and we are very concerned about our security.
Q: What would you like foreign citizens and companies to know about Armenia that they might not already know?
A: We know the value of peace and we are very thankful to our friends.
We are one of the few oldest nations having a statehood. Yerevan is 50 years older than Rome. An area very close to Yerevan, Shengavit, is 6000 years old – a civilization that is 1000 years older than Egypt pyramids. We are the first Christian nation and we were one of the first nations to start typography. We say to [businesspeople and tourists] to come to Armenia, be our guest and become our friend.