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Armenian Recovery Further Dragged Down By Agriculture

YEREVAN -- Armenia's economic recovery slowed further last month due to a sharp fall in agricultural output, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The National Statistical Service (NSS) announced on August 23 that the economy grew 4 percent in the first seven months of this year, down from 6.7 percent registered in the first half. Year-on-year growth had accelerated from January through May on the back of rising international metal prices and remittance inflows from Armenians working abroad.

Growth was slowed by a 23 percent year-on-year slump in agricultural production, which generated almost 12 percent of the country's total economic output in January-July 2010.

That fall was caused by last spring's unfavorable weather conditions. Heavy rain and hailstorms caused serious damage to farmers across Armenia, dramatically pushing up the cost of fruits and vegetables.

The government and Central Bank have repeatedly revised upwards their full-year growth forecasts in recent months. Government officials have said it will come in at between 5 and 7 percent. The International Monetary Fund has forecast a growth rate of more than 4 percent.

Bagrat Asatrian, a former Central Bank governor critical of the authorities, on August 23 blamed the government and its "ineffective" economic policy for the slowing recovery.

"We have reached a point where we are up against a wall and have no more possibilities of development if we carry on along this path," he said at a news conference.

Asatrian said the authorities still lack a clear strategy to bring Armenia out of last year's recession -- a claim disputed by Vartan Ayvazian, the chairman of the parliament committee on economic affairs.

"The [government's] anti-crisis program is working and having an impact," Ayvazian told journalists.