Ex-Soviet nations sign free-trade deal

October 21, 2011 - 12:26 PM
Russia CIS Meeting

Meeting of Prime Ministers from the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose association of ex-Soviet republics, in St.Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Russia, Ukraine and six other former Soviet republics signed a free-trade agreement Tuesday that will scrap export and import duties on some goods.

The deal was announced after talks in St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city.

Three more ex-Soviet nations — Uzbekistan and oil and gas-rich Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan — did not sign the agreement but said they would consider doing so before the end of the year.

The free-trade deal was signed at a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose group of 11 nations formed shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin did not identify the goods that will be freed of export and import duties, but said the agreement will lower prices for those goods, creating better conditions for businesses among the nations and "making our economies more competitive."

Putin also insisted that the trade deal does not clash with the commitments that Russia needs to undertake in order to join the World Trade Organization, an international trade body that Russia has been trying to get into for nearly two decades.

The agreement would come into effect next year provided that it is ratified by the parliaments of the eight countries.

Besides Russia and Ukraine the six other signatory nations were Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Tajikistan.

Ukraine is significant because it had resisted Moscow's invitation to join it in a Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan customs union.

Ukraine has said its membership in the union would clash with its aspirations for closer trade links with the EU. But Ukraine's European ambitions suffered a blow Tuesday when Brussels postponed a Ukraine summit over the recent guilty verdict against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in a trial that some observers described as politically motivated.