28 may, 2010 22:04  

Following a meeting of the Supreme Body of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Kazakh counterpart Karim Masimov hold a news conference


Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,

Today we discussed progress in the formation of the Customs Union. The Customs Union has been in effect since January 1 of this year, as we all know, and all the instruments implemented in the first stage have proven effective.

We have had discussions with Kazakhstan concerning our readiness to launch the second stage of the Customs Union on July 1 of this year, and confirmed the readiness of our two countries to establish the single customs space. At the same time, we are considering the remaining differences with Belarus over the payment of export customs duties, including those on crude oil and petroleum products, and the lack of readiness of our Belarusian colleagues to introduce the previously agreed-upon Customs Code and launch the second stage of the Customs Union on July 1 of this year.

With regard to export duties on oil and petroleum products, we believe that this issue applies to the formation of the single economic space, and is not relevant to the establishment of the Customs Union. Moreover, at the beginning of today's meeting I said that once we agree on and ratify the whole package of measures relevant to the establishment of a unified economic space, the issue of export duties would not longer be relevant.

In this context, we have agreed with our Kazakh partners to implement the Customs Code of the Customs Union, and other international agreements adopted in the course of its development, on a bilateral basis on July 1 of this year.

Today we have signed an international agreement that will allow us to move towards deeper integration, if necessary on a bilateral basis. This agreement, which has been signed, defines the procedures for adopting the entire contractual and legal framework for the second stage of the Customs Union on a bilateral basis.

In addition, we have established bilateral decision-making mechanisms for those powers that will be elevated to the supranational level when the second stage of the Customs Union is launched. This has no effect on the operation of the tripartite mechanisms that have already been launched.

We are open to the adoption by Belarus of all agreements adopted for the second stage of the Customs Union. Moreover, as we agreed a week ago, we have confirmed our intention to speed up our efforts to form the single economic space.

Thank you very much.

Karim Masimov: A meeting of the Customs Union prime ministers was held here a week ago. Instructions were given to the Customs Union Commission, the high-level group of deputy prime ministers and expert groups to continue their work so that we could take the relevant decisions within the week.

I am pleased to report that all the people responsible for this approached the matter conscientiously. All the necessary documents are ready, and compromises have been reached on all areas of disagreement.

I want to say once again that the Customs Union, which began its work on January 1, has proved effective and is helping all member countries' economies to develop. In particular, the establishment of the Customs Union has set many positive trends in motion in Kazakhstan. Our economic growth exceeded 7% in the first four months of the year, largely thanks to the Union.

Next, the Customs Union will enter into the second stage of its development on July 1, as agreed upon previously and in accordance with the agreements we have signed today.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan supports this arrangement.

The agreement signed today will be ratified, after which we can continue to make progress.

I do hope that Belarus will join the treaty as soon as possible, and that we will begin the second stage together.

I also hope that our expert groups will continue to work toward further development and draft documents for the establishment of the single economic space.

On the whole, we think that we have taken an important step forward in our relations.

Thank you.

Question: Good afternoon. My question is for whoever wants to take it. Had Mr Sidorsky [the Belarusian prime minister] agreed to come to St Petersburg today?

And another question: Mr Masimov, as you said at the beginning of the talks, the agreements will be signed bilaterally and Belarus can join later, on your terms, if it so chooses. Does this mean Belarus will have to run after a departing train, so to speak, and accept your terms? Do you think there is a chance to settle the matter with Belarus at all, and on what terms? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: As for the Belarusian delegation's participation in today's meeting, we had obtained its preliminary consent to attend today's events. Our Belarusian colleagues had notified us that they will come to sign the documents but backed out at the last minute, so we have had to make the decisions bilaterally.

I want to call your attention to the following. I had a telephone conversation with my Belarusian colleague today and, as I have mentioned already, he informed me, after confirming this with the Belarusian president, that Belarus is ready to sign the documents. The question now is how to coordinate certain technical issues between the Belarusian economic agencies. That was what I was told. We hope Belarus will sign the documents, which have been coordinated. If it does not, we will work towards further integration on a bilateral basis.

Karim Masimov:
Regarding the terms, the terms for the second stage of the Customs Union were coordinated beforehand at the level of deputy prime ministers, including the Belarusian deputy prime minister. These were preliminary terms. Specifically, they concerned car imports, a sensitive issue for the economies of Belarus and Kazakhstan alike.

Mr Putin, I am grateful to Russia for its support of this proposal. Particularly, a transitional period has been introduced for car imports into Kazakhstan, so no one is catching up with any departing train. The terms on which we have reached an agreement today were coordinated with Belarus at the expert level beforehand, so I don't see any great tragedy in the situation.

Question: I would like to ask both prime ministers what their national policies will be with respect to joining the World Trade Organisation in light of the creation of a single economic space?

Vladimir Putin: We, both Russia and Kazakhstan, are at a rather advanced stage of preparations for WTO membership. There are still some matters to settle, but it will certainly be easier to do this bilaterally on the Customs Union's behalf than in the tripartite arrangement, because the more participants there are, the more problems there are, as every country defends its own economic interests and the number of contentious issues grows. This is evident.

Certainly, it will be easier to join the WTO in the bilateral format. However, I want to point out that this is not a reason or pretext for not developing tripartite cooperation with Belarus included. We will do this.

As I have said in my opening remarks, the Customs Union became operational on January 1. As for the second stage, it will largely follow the same lines as the first, though integration will involve a greater number of sectors.

I won't list these sectors now. Our colleagues here can fill you in on all the relevant details. However, allow me to emphasise once again that I hope the documents will be signed as soon as Belarus completes its governmental procedures and coordination, and we will work towards joining the WTO together, the three of us. If Belarus does not join us, we will do so bilaterally.

Karim Masimov: Mr Putin, I want to reiterate the position we announced together on June 9 last year: we will coordinate our positions regarding the World Trade Organisation, as we have been doing this year, and we will enter the WTO in a mutually coordinated manner.

So, generally speaking, there will be no fundamental changes. We are sticking to our earlier principles. There is another matter I would like to pay special attention to. Bilateral decisions on the second integration stage and on the agreement signed today will be made by consensus, meaning agreement between Russia and Kazakhstan.

Question: My first question is addressed to Mr Masimov. Could you explain the transition period, and how long will it last?

The second question is to Mr Putin. How will Russia administer car imports now?

And another fundamental issue: how will the Customs Union settle disputes, and who will arbitrate?

Thank you.

Karim Masimov: As far as the first issue of the transitional period: our negotiators have agreed - and we confirmed it today in our capacity as prime ministers - that the transitional period for car imports will be in effect until a specific agreement is signed within the framework of the single economic space. We agreed to define this transitional period.

We also agreed to speed up the process of harmonising our positions regarding the single economic space. It is not the case that we consider the development of the automotive industry in Russia and, potentially, in Kazakhstan a low priority. It is a high-priority issue. The Russian automotive industry is growing steadily, and we hope we'll be able to attract investors to Kazakhstan, including through the common economic space.

Vladimir Putin: This is a very sensitive issue, but we've found a solution to it. Here it is: First, we begin the transitional period, the timeframe of which has just been mentioned. Second, our Kazakh partners agree that Russia should defend its economic interests and its automotive industry. We will have certain rules during this period against re-exports of imported cars from Kazakhstan.
This will mean that we will continue to maintain customs stations to control the flow of this part of production. Also, we'll enact certain administrative regulations for vehicle registration.

As far as the second half of your question regarding the resolution of legal disputes that may arise, it's obvious that it is impossible to avoid such disputes. We have agreed to set up a temporary judicial panel on a bilateral basis, which will be based in the Kazakh capital of Astana.

Question: Hello, I have a question for both prime ministers, Mr Masimov and Mr Putin. My first question is whether you expect more countries to join the Customs Union in the near future, despite the present disagreements, including the disagreements with Belarus.
Karim Masimov: Speaking on behalf of the Kazakh government, I can say that we would welcome Minsk's decision to adopt the second-stage agreements, because Belarus already is member of the Customs Union. This could be in the near future at a time when Belarus considers it necessary.

Also, we are interested in admitting more countries to the Customs Union, but on the terms we confirmed in our agreements.

Vladimir Putin: We discussed this issue with our EurAsEC partners long ago. In one form or another, almost all members of this international organisation expressed their willingness to join the Customs Union and the single economic space.

However, it's not a matter of willingness alone. These countries have shown such willingness, but their economies must be ready for such extensive integration. Our colleagues understand this perfectly, we understand this perfectly and, moreover, experts from these countries are following our work. They are kept updated on our progress, they have all our agreements at hand, and they are reviewing them in order to work out mechanisms to make their economic practices comply with our agreements.

We're gradually establishing the necessary foundation for integration. And as Mr Masimov has just mentioned, we, of course, welcome integration.

Thank you.