Moldova finds itself at an important crossroad. This past June, Moldova, together with Georgia and Ukraine, signed a European Union Association Agreement, and in September ratified the EU Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCTFA). The United States applauded the signing of these historic agreements that marked a major step toward Moldova’s integration with the European Union.
While these critical agreements deepen Moldova’s link to the common EU market, unlocking new opportunities for trade and assistance, they have also led to increasing economic and political pressure from Russia. As Moldova moves closer to EU integration with the West, the Russian government has enacted increasingly harsh bans on wine and produce from Moldova, a real economic hardship given the importance of the agricultural sector to the economy.
As Deputy Assistant Administrator of USAID’s Bureau for Europe and Eurasia, my visit to Moldova focused on strengthening the partnership between the United States and the Moldovan people and reaffirming our ongoing support at this important time.
Throughout my stay in Moldova, I was inspired by the civic responsibility of its citizens and their strong desire for closer economic and political ties with Europe. Sitting down face to face with wine and fruit producers, I learned about their perseverance in the face of Russian bans, their ongoing efforts to take full advantage of the new DCTFA, and the strong partnership they have with USAID.
Russia’s ban of Moldovan wine and fruit remains a major challenge for local producers to overcome, as Moldova’s economy depended heavily on trade with Russia. Today USAID is working hand in hand with Moldovans to respond to this challenge by helping ensure that they meet EU export requirements and supporting Moldovan producers in marketing and outreach to buyers in the EU as well as non-traditional markets.
Through USAID’s CEED project, we successfully helped Moldovans create a national brand—Wine of Moldova, A Legend Alive. This branding, along with USAID-assisted marketing efforts in other key Moldovan industries, has made it possible for 80 enterprises in Moldova to expand exports in regional markets.
While the Russian bans create a difficult challenge to Moldovan farmers, they also provide an enormous economic opportunity. As Moldova is connected to new markets, it gains the ability to increase both the volume of its exports and the price of its product.
The Moldovan people are ready to take advantage of this opportunity. During a meeting with local fruit producers, I learned that even in the face of the Russian fruit ban, businesses were able to increase exports. This is particularly impressive given that 90 percent of their apples were sent to Russia before the ban. Over the past year, USAID-assisted producers have made $16.7 million in export sales to several countries, with nearly $4.6 million of these sales coming from women-owned or managed businesses.
Moldova’s elections on Nov. 30 will be an important nexus of these different pressures and will be crucial in charting Moldova’s future course. The U.S. remains committed to working with Moldova to achieve its full democratic potential, including free and fair elections.
During my visit I saw up close the impact of our elections assistance, meeting with Iurie Ciocan, the head of Moldova’s Central Election Committee (CEC). He shared his insights into the upcoming parliamentary elections. For the first time, the CEC has mandated that all voting booths and boxes be standardized, an important component for transparent elections.
Ciocan highlighted USAID’s support for short- and long-term election observation efforts with an $800,000 award to the local entity Promo-Lex. I also met with local partners, as well as the National Democratic Institute, to learn more about the challenges of the upcoming elections. USAID is also supporting independent news analysis and providing information on political party platforms to help ensure the people of Moldova have all the information necessary to make an informed decision.
I look forward to my next visit to Moldova and building on a successful 20-year partnership with the Moldovan people. Since 1992, the United States has provided nearly $1.2 billion in assistance to Moldova, including over $22 million in FY 2013 and a five-year, $262 million Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact launched in 2010.
USAID will continue to provide assistance to strengthen Moldova’s democratic governance and economic growth as it moves toward deeper integration with the European Union and a stronger U.S.-Moldova bilateral relationship.