The key customs code of the Russia-Kazakhstan customs union has taken effect on Thursday. Though it was reported that Belarus had approved the code on Wednesday, Minsk has not yet confirmed it officially. To take effect, the code needs to be approved by President Alexander Lukashenko.
However, Moscow and Astana think that a role of Minsk in successful implementation of the agreement is not that crucial as it may seem. Belarus can ratify the code any time later, and the three countries are equally interested in the code.
The approved customs code regulates transportation of goods across the borders, their declaration and customs fees. The code also introduces an institution of special economic operators allowed to use a simplified system of registration and control. A package of international agreements is expected to come into effect together with the code.
"Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus enjoy good prospects for their customs union turning later into a single economic zone," says Igor Yurgens, Vice President of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. "Unlike in Europe, economies of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are almost equal. When Great Britain and Romania united in the EU, that looked more like subsidy support rather than integration. But the first rule here is to have equal economic level with a country you want to create a customs union with."
Apart from this, there are some other positive moments playing into our hands: Russian language spoken by very many people living in Belarus and Kazakhstan, and active cooperation in plenty of spheres which dates back to the Soviet era. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the three countries faced a gap caused by the difference in their economic priorities. Political risks also matter. The leader of Belarus cannot put up with the need to delegate part of his functions to subnational institutions, though it would be impossible to build up a real customs union otherwise.
Mr. Yurgens continues: "It will be a difficult task to succeed without delegating part of functions to a subnational entity, first of all-in the sphere of customs policies and trade. But Mr. Lukashenko seems to be unaware of it, constantly demanding privileges for Belarus. Of course, this cannot but impede the process of integration."
"The Russian Federal Customs Service (FCS) is ready to follow new regulations and has launched a hotline to report on the code`s legal acts," the head of the FCS, Andrei Belyaninov, said. He added, however, that it will take much effort and time to make a political decision on integration useful in real life.