Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 82

Presidents Boris Yeltsin of Russia, Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus, Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan and Prime Minister Kubanychbek Zhumaliev of Kyrgyzstan (representing President Askar Akaev, who is currently visiting China) held in Moscow a summit of the quadripartite Customs Union yesterday. The leaders failed to discuss the issue of changing the method of assessing value-added taxes in reciprocal trade among the member countries. Russia stands for maintaining the existing system, based on the country-of-origin principle. The other three countries favor the country-of-destination principle, as practiced among member countries of the World Trade Organization. At the October 1997 meeting of the Customs Union, Yeltsin accepted that demand, to the delighted surprise of the other three presidents. The concession was seen as a first major step toward turning the Customs Union into a reality (See the Monitor, October 23 and 24, 1997). However, the Russian economic ministries blocked the implementation, and Yeltsin did not return to the issue afterward.

Yesterday’s meeting adopted a declarative statement on “Ten Ordinary Steps to Benefit Ordinary People,” envisaging, among other things, simplified border-crossing and postal procedures and mutual recognition of education degrees by the member countries. The document represents a diluted version of proposals originally submitted by Nazarbaev, whose centerpiece had been the lifting of restrictions on cross-border shuttle-trading. Apparently as a sop to Kazakhstan, the conferees decided to hold the next summit in that republic and to move the seat of the Integration Committee–the executive organ of the Customs Union–to Akmola.

The leaders made the political decision to admit Tajikistan, turning the Customs Union into a “quintet.” Tajikistan’s accession will take practical effect only next year, following adjustments in that country’s economic and trade legislation and practices. Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov attended the meeting and was accompanied by First Deputy Prime Minister Akbar Turajonzoda, whose participation reflected the slowly evolving political compromise in Tajikistan. A leader of the opposition, Turanjozoda is at least nominally responsible for relations with CIS countries in the revamped Tajik government. (Russian agencies, April 28, 29)