Russia, Kazakhstan book seat on Customs Union for Belarus

Russia and Kazakhstan hope that Belarus will also become a signatory to the documents that Moscow and Astana have signed as parties to the Customs Union. This came in a statement by the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as he spoke in the wake of a meeting of the international organization's supreme body in St. Petersburg.

Belarus is discontent with Russia's collection of duties on oil product exports, so on Friday Belarus refused to attend a Customs Union-related meeting. Meanwhile the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan have reached a number of agreements. In keeping with one such agreement the Customs Code is due to take effect on July 1st. Moscow and Astana have also signed an international treaty providing an additional legal basis for a still deeper integration. The treaty specifically sets out the application on a bilateral basis of the entire contractual treaty framework of the Customs Union's second stage.

The Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan became formally operational on January 1st this year. But it will be safe to refer to the three countries as a single customs area only after the Customs Code has come into force. When elaborating on a concerted joining of the World Trade Organization by the three countries, Vladimir Putin said this, among other things: "Once Belarus is through with agreeing its internal government procedures and simultaneously signs the documents, as I hope it will, Vladimir Putin says, we will start joining the WTO in the trilateral format. If all the three countries fail to join the WTO at a time, we will try to join it in the bilateral format".

In St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin made a number of statements that are important to Belarus. He reiterated that Minsk was free to join all the agreements that Moscow and Astana have reached. No duties on oil or oil products will be collected in trade among the Customs Union countries once the Agreement on a Single Economic Space is ratified.

It is not the first time that Belarus has failed to turn up at a meeting with its CIS partners. In June 2009 President Alexander Lukashenko ignored a CSTO summit in Moscow after Russia's ban on Belarusian dairy imports that fail to meet the technical regulations' standards. As a result the Belarusian delegation failed to sign in the Kremlin the agreement on setting up the CSTO Joint Rapid Reaction Force.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in a comment that Lukashenko had acted not in quite a partner-like way, that he had failed to call him to brief Medvedev on his (Lukashenko's) decision to abstain from the meeting. This time Lukashenko did call Putin and told the Russian Prime Minister that Minsk is prepared to continue work in the format of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Putin said that Moscow took account of its differences with Minsk on ways to pay export duties, including the duties on crude oil and oil products, as well as of the fact that the Belarusian colleagues are unprepared to introduce the earlier agreed customs duties and give the go-ahead to the second stage of the Customs Union as of July 1st.

Putin also called attention to the fact that in keeping with an earlier reached consensus the issue has to do with shaping a Single Economic Space, and is in no way related to the Customs Union mechanisms that are about to be launched.


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