Astana wants Eurasian project limited to economy and trade

By Bulat Auelbayev Source:Global Times Published: 2014-2-16 17:58:02

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The project of an economic integration in the post-Soviet space was first formulated by Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, in March 1994. At that time, the leader's main thesis was the preservation of economic relations between states that after the collapse of the Soviet Union were subjected to removal.

Part of the idea was embodied in the Eurasian Economic Community created in 1995, but the process of integration has long remained sluggish.

After the formation of the Customs Union between Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus in 2010, as well as an agreement between the heads of these countries on the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union, the integration association received a new impetus.

So in October 2011 an agreement was signed to establish a free trade zone within the Commonwealth of Independent States, which opened up the possibility of expanding economic relations.

In 2013, some important meetings passed at the highest state level of Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus, including three meetings of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (SEEC) that were held in Astana, Minsk and Moscow.

At the last meeting, the presidents of the three countries declared that from January 1, 2015 the Eurasian Economic Union will officially start functioning.

Thus, Eurasian integration has currently turned into a real program, where each of the parties shows its great interest in the implementation process.

Belarus supports and develops its industrial and agricultural sectors through capacious Russian and Kazakhstan markets. Against high competition from European software producers, Minsk quite favorably defined for itself an export niche in the system of regional trade. In addition, deliveries of raw materials from Russia are also in Belarus' interests.

Thanks to its customs barriers, Russia managed to partially rehabilitate production, and the sharp increase in sales of Russian automotive industry products became a clear demonstration of that.

However, the ambitions of Moscow go further. The desire to play the leading role on the world scene influences the decision to see in the Eurasian Economic Union not only countries entering the Commonwealth, but also those that do not even share the same borders.

Kazakhstan has adopted a more restrained and balanced position. For Astana, the initial version of the Eurasian community, as well as its future continuation in the form of the Eurasian Economic Union, was and remains a means of adaptation while entering the global trade system, one of the main stages of which is membership of the WTO.

At the formation of the Customs Union of the three states, Kazakhstan pursued specific aims: increase in volume of consumers after removal of the customs duties in the union, and increase of investment appeal of the Kazakhstan territory through liberal laws for business and low tax rates.

By this, the Kazakhstan authorities seek to create their own reserve of production of goods which can compete in world markets.

The emergence of different approaches to Eurasian integration identified certain problems in the relationship between its members.

Kazakhstan sees no need to jump the gun and give the union more political functions.

Given the positive aspects of creating a single labor market, Astana is actively involved in the formation of a single economic space.

Moreover, the support of partners in overcoming the consequences of the world crisis and ability to act together in the conditions of the global competition are considered important.

As Nazarbayev stated at the SEEC meeting in December 2013 in Moscow, "It is no stretch to say that the history of our states is in the making at the 'round table' of the Eurasian Economic Union. We are aware of our responsibility. This is a truly innovative project. In no way it is an attempt to revive the collapsed USSR. There is no return to the past. This is a common unequivocal position of all the member states. We are not going back, but forward like the rest of the world obeying dominating integration trends."

The author is head of Department of Foreign Policy Studies of Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

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