The presidents of four former Soviet republics agreed Sunday to coordinate their efforts to join the World Trade Organization.
"We are convinced that if we coordinate our work we will be able to ensure that our countries will join the WTO on good and optimal terms," President Vladimir Putin said after a meeting with the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus.
Kyrgyzstan is already a member of WTO, which sets rules on international trade, but the others are among 26 countries seeking membership. Russia has been trying to join the WTO for eight years.
The five presidents gathered in the Tajik capital Dushanbe for a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Community, a Russia-dominated group set up in 2000 to restore lost trade ties after the Soviet collapse. Russia has 40 percent of the voting rights in the organization and covers 40 percent of its budget.
The five presidents signed a document that outlines priority areas of economic cooperation through 2006.
They agreed to work on the creation of a single customs regime, a transport union and coordinated migration policies. They also plan to discuss creating single energy and agricultural markets.
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev said that, if the plan is fulfilled by 2006, there will be "genuine" free trade between the countries, a move that many of these impoverished states believe is essential to boost their economies.
The economic group also agreed to grant observer status to the former Soviet republic of Armenia. Last year, observer status was given to another two former Soviet republics, Ukraine and Moldova, in a bid to boost the group's international influence.
Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov said Sunday that the economic group was now ready to move forward with specific joint projects. The first will be the construction of the Songtuda power station southeast of Dushanbe, he said.
If finished, the power station will make up Tajikistan's shortfall of electricity and will also be able to supply energy to southern Kazakh and Kyrgyz regions. The three-year project has an estimated price tag of $170 million.
On Monday, the five presidents and Armenian President Robert Kocharyan were expected to discuss military ties within the Collective Security Treaty Organization
By Bagila Bukharbayeva,
St. Petersburg Times, April 30, 2003