Belarus Ready for Customs Union

Belarus is ready to join a Russia-dominated customs union on July 1 after outstanding disputes are resolved, Nikolai Snopkov, the country's economy minister, said Friday.

Last month, Russia and Kazakhstan agreed to launch the union without Belarus after negotiations stalled as Moscow refused to abolish export duties on the oil it sells Minsk, something analysts view as a key incentive for it to join the pact.

The new trading bloc is expected to boost Moscow's influence in the region but could complicate World Trade Organization membership talks.

"The meeting between Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov confirmed that both sides plan to settle all disputed issues and join the customs union July 1," Snopkov told reporters.

Shuvalov visited Minsk last week to mend relations. Lukashenko said after the visit that Belarus was ready to compromise to be able to join the union with Russia and Kazakhstan on time.

Asked whether Belarus is ready to give up its demands for no export duties on oil and oil products, Snopkov said that "most likely, disagreements will be settled."

But he also referred to a "transition period" for some products, which Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina warned was not yet settled, Interfax reported.

"Until the agreements are signed, it's too early to discuss that. We need to wait until all of the negotiations are completed before we can say that it will be just like that" with a transition period for some goods," she told the same news conference.

There is "still time," however, to solve outstanding issues, Nabiullina said. "We're open to Belarus signing on to all of the agreements."

(Reuters, MT)


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