Armenia is the second most densely populated of the former Soviet republics. It is situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, bordered on the north and east by Georgia and Azerbaijan and on the south and west by Iran and Turkey.
Until independence, Armenia's economy was based largely on industry--chemicals, electronic products, machinery, processed food, synthetic rubber, and textiles-and highly dependent on outside resources. Agriculture accounted for only 20% of net material product and 10% of employment before the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Armenian mines produce copper, zinc, gold, and lead. The vast majority of energy is produced with imported fuel, including gas and nuclear fuel (for its one nuclear power plant) from Russia; the main domestic energy source is hydroelectric. Small amounts of coal, gas, and petroleum have not yet been developed.
Like other former States, Armenia's economy suffers from the legacy of a centrally planned economy and the breakdown of former Soviet trading patterns. Soviet investment in and support of Armenian industry has virtually disappeared, so that few major enterprises are still able to function. In addition, the effects of the 1988 earthquake, which killed more than 25,000 people and made 500,000 homeless, are still being felt. Although a cease-fire has held since 1994, the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh has not been resolved. The consequent blockade along both the Azerbaijani and Turkish borders has devastated the economy, because of Armenia's dependence on outside supplies of energy and most raw materials. Land routes through Azerbaijan and Turkey are closed; routes through Georgia and Iran are inadequate or unreliable. In 1992-93, GDP fell nearly 60% from its 1989 level. The national currency, the dram, suffered hyperinflation for the first few years after its introduction in 1993.
Nevertheless, the Government of Armenia, helped by the cease-fire that has been in effect in Nagorno-Karabakh since 1994, has been able to carry out wide ranging economic reforms which paid off in dramatically lower inflation and steady growth. Armenia has registered strong economic growth since 1995, building on the turnaround that began the previous year, and inflation has been negligible for the past several years. New sectors, such as precious stone processing and jewelry making, information and communication technology, and even tourism are beginning to supplement more traditional sectors such as agriculture in the economy.
This steady economic progress has earned Armenia increasing support from international institutions. The IMF, World Bank, EBRD, as well as other IFIs and foreign countries are extending considerable grants and loans. Total loans extended to Armenia since 1993 exceed $800 million. These loans are targeted at reducing the budget deficit, stabilizing the local currency; developing private businesses; energy; the agriculture, food processing, transportation, and health and education sectors; and ongoing rehabilitation work in the earthquake zone.
Continued progress will depend on the ability of the government to strengthen its macroeconomic management, including increasing revenue collection, improve the investment climate, and accelerate the privatization process. A liberal foreign investment law was approved in June 1994, and a Law on Privatization was adopted in 1997, as well as a program on state property privatization. The government has made major strides toward joining the World Trade Organization. By 1994, however, the Armenian Government had launched an ambitious IMF-sponsored economic liberalization program that resulted in positive growth rates in 1995-2005. Armenia joined the WTO in January 2003. Armenia also has managed to slash inflation, stabilize its currency, and privatize most small- and medium-sized enterprises. Armenia's unemployment rate, however, remains high, despite strong economic growth. The chronic energy shortages Armenia suffered in the early and mid-1990s have been offset by the energy supplied by one of its nuclear power plants at Metsamor. Armenia is now a net energy exporter, although it does not have sufficient generating capacity to replace Metsamor, which is under international pressure to close. The electricity distribution system was privatized in 2002. Armenia's severe trade imbalance has been offset somewhat by international aid, remittances from Armenians working abroad, and foreign direct investment. Economic ties with Russia remain close, especially in the energy sector. The government made some improvements in tax and customs administration in 2005, but anti-corruption measures will be more difficult to implement. Investment in the construction and industrial sectors is expected to continue in 2006 and will help to ensure annual average real GDP growth of about 13.9%.