05/31/2022, 09.40
RUSSIA-EURASIA
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Customs barriers remain: the Eurasian Union fails to take off

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Along with the issue of internal freedom of movement, the problem is raised forcefully by the Kyrgyz. Member countries accuse Russia of favouring partners outside the economic bloc. Kazakhs on Moscow's side: 80% opening of internal trade routes.

AsiaNews (Moscow) - Customs and internal market barriers were the main topics of the virtual summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), one of the post-Soviet structures that since 2015 has brought together Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. The Russians created it as a mirror image of the European Union as a form of competition in the global economy.

The president of Kyrgyzstan, Sadyr Žaparov, has complained that the transit of trade cargo from many countries outside the EEU to Russia is much faster than is allowed in Biškek, despite the fact that the EEU has already been in place for seven years. In his opinion, 'barriers introduce divisions between us, and give a negative image of the EEU; I think this is unacceptable'. Žaparov cited as an example the data on trade in the agri-food sector, where customs favours countries friendly to Russia such as Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, while for member states there should not even be border controls on the EEU's borders.

Armenia and Belarus in previous summits had also raised the issue of free movement of goods as per the founding agreements of the EEU. Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that the claims of the other members were well-founded, and promised that barriers on the road to integration would be broken down: 'The economic institutions and regulatory bodies of our countries are continuing their efforts to identify and remove the remaining restrictions; in the last two years, 30 barriers have been broken down in this field.

As a result of the pandemic, quarantine measures have often created blockades for various reasons, and Kyrgyz agricultural production in particular has been repeatedly stopped and sent back, also suggesting political tension between Moscow and Bishkek. Kazakh President Kasym-Žomart Tokaev has rather defended Putin's line, stating that according to Nur-Sultan's assessments, 80% of trade routes have now been opened. In the recent negotiations between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, some restrictions had been justified by the fight against smuggling, and now they are to be gradually overcome through the use of digital control tools.

The EU summit had been preceded on 26 May by a forum in Biškek, in the presence of Žaparov and Tokaev, with the other presidents linked online, where the Kyrgyz representative, the EU's rotating president, had launched the programme to develop the "four freedoms" of trade, services, capital and labour resources. According to Žaparov, 'these commitments are particularly important in the current conditions of growing tensions in international politics, and selective sanctions against our partners'.

Putin commented on the issue of sanctions, assuring that Eurasian countries will be able to compensate for the loss of trade relations with European companies: 'Our economy is now solid and mature after years of openness, and we can offer fertile ground for our most loyal partners, for us nothing changes; we need your engineers, specialists and scientists'.

It was also discussed whether to transfer further powers to the Executive Commission of the EEU, but on this it was decided not to rush things, as it is not a governmental structure capable of making autonomous decisions. Kyrgyz political scientist Ruslan Akmatbek observes that "it is precisely the pressure from the sanctions against Russia that is pushing Kyrgyzstan to take decisive steps in the transformation of its economy, as long as the effects in Russia are not yet felt too strongly". The academic explains that 'the EU has so far remained an artificial market, serving Russia's interests, now we will have to learn to better defend our interests'. The Kyrgyz prime minister, Akylbek Žaparov, called this phase 'a turn of civilisation from West to East, Asia will be the new centre of world gravity: the window of Europe closes, the veranda of Asia opens wide'.

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