Belarus joins Customs Union but differences persist

Despite the establishment of the Customs Union, Russia has refused to scrap its export duty on crude oil and petroleum products supplied to Belarus.

The leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia on Monday signed documents launching the three countries` Customs Union amid unsolved differences between Minsk and Moscow over the latter`s export duty on crude oil and petroleum products, BelaPAN reports.

Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev in Astana on July 5, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that the Code of the Customs Union would take effect on July 6. "And for Russia and Kazakhstan it came into force on July 1," RIA Novosti quoted him as saying.

Igor Shuvalov, Russia`s first deputy prime minister, said in the Kazakh capital earlier in the day that Russia and Kazakhstan shared the opinion that the Customs Union`s member states had the right to levy duties on exports to another member state, while Belarus called for the abolition of all export duties in trade between the member states.

Despite the establishment of the Customs Union, Russia has refused to scrap its export duty on crude oil and petroleum products supplied to Belarus.

Andrey Kabyakow, Belarus` deputy prime minister, said with reference to a protocol signed in Astana on Monday that the contentious duty would be abolished once Minsk signed and ratified agreements on the establishment of a common economic space, an even closer economic union that the Customs Union is expected to evolve into.

In accordance with the protocol, Belarus will not be required to raise the rates of its import duty on automobiles to Russia`s level until July 1, 2011, according to Mr. Kabyakow.

Belarus said earlier this year that it would join the Customs Union only if Russia abolished the export duty for it.
The dispute over the duty even prompted Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski to boycott a key round of Customs Union talks in St.Petersburg in late May. As a result, Kazakhstan and Russia announced that they would launch the union on July 1 on a bilateral basis without Belarus.

In a surprise announcement on July 3, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that Belarus had ratified the Code of the Customs Union, making clear that Minsk was ready to join the Union.