Former Soviet nations sign free-trade pact led by Putin

Eight former Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) signed a trade agreement Oct. 18 that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said would strengthen bonds in the loose regional grouping.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says the agreement will lower prices for some goods. AP photo.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says the agreement will lower prices for some goods. AP photo.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin did not identify the goods that will be freed of export and import duties, but said the agreement will lower prices for those goods, creating better conditions for businesses among the nations and “making our economies more competitive.” Putin also insisted that the trade deal does not clash with the commitments that Russia needs to undertake in order to join the World Trade Organization, an international trade body that Russia has been trying to get into for nearly two decades, Reuters reported.

“This is a fundamental document that will serve as a basis for relations for a long time,” Putin said of the Free Trade Zone pact, signed after a meeting of prime ministers from the 11-nation CIS. But three members — energy-rich Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — did not sign the new agreement, underscoring the persistent rifts in a grouping sometimes criticized by its own members as little more than a talking shop.

Putin said the pact, due to take effect in January, would replace a 1994 deal that some CIS members never ratified.

He said it would boost trade among them — which he said had increased by 48 percent in the first half of 2011 over the same period in 2010, to $134 billion — without causing conflicts in trade with other nations. The pact was signed by Russia, Armenia, Moldova, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus. Three more ex-Soviet nations Uzbekistan and oil and gas-rich Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan did not sign the agreement but said they would consider doing so before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Oct. 18 the controversial jailing of Ukraine’s opposition leader was Kiev’s “internal affair” as the Kremlin courted Ukraine smarting from a rift with the EU. “This is an internal affair of Ukraine,” Medvedev said after economic talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in the industrial city in Ukraine.

Putin held consultations Oct. 18 with his Ukrainian counterpart following a stunning refusal by Brussels to meet with Yanukovych following the jailing of his opponent. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said yesterday that it was only “a matter of days” before Moscow and Kiev resolved their disagreement over energy prices — one of the main sticking points in their current ties.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011
ST PETESBURG, Russia