Kazakhstan denies reported plans to impose restriction on imports of some Russian products

By bne IntelliNews February 9, 2015

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Kazakh First Deputy Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev denied reported plans that the government is planning to impose restrictions on imports of certain Russian products.

According to Russian media reports (led by Kommersant), talks over restrictions were supposed to be held at the meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council held on February 6, the the body that brings together the four countries of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which also includes Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia.

According to a source at the Kazakh Agriculture Ministry quoted by Interfax, "consultations are currently underway on possibly imposing restrictions on imports of some types of food products whose supplies to the Kazakh market have grown dramatically since the Russian ruble exchange rate was adjusted." 

Kommersant reported that Kazakhstan was seeking limits on imports of petroleum products, motor vehicles, cable and wire products, glass containers, meat, eggs, pasta, confectionery, flour and juice. The consultations on the issue were held for a week, Kommersant said, adding that no results were achieved.

The reports were disputed by Russian Agriculture Minister Nikolay Fedorov, who said any efforts to put the issue on the agenda would not work. "It isn't serious for somebody to put an issue like this on the agenda. We've set up a Customs Union, we're strengthening it actively, putting uniform rules in place, some of them stating that restrictions are inadmissible," he said. At the same time, however, he confirmed that there are some parties that are for "initiating this theme".

Despite the remarks by Sagintayev, the issue of limiting imports on certain Russian products does indeed seem to be on the agenda - at least unofficially. According to Eurasian Economic Commission Trade Minister Andrei Slepnev, quoted by Interfax, the issue was not raised at the recent meeting but "was shifted to the bilateral level". At the same time, Eurasian Economic Commission Board Chairman Viktor Khristenko declared that: "Speaking of Kazakhstan's initiatives, I have not seen official initiatives of this kind. There are no formal initiatives to this effect. Such issues are being discussed in the business and expert communities."

Kazakhstan and Russia are members of the Eurasian Economic Union that creates a common market of goods and services. At the same time, the trade bloc allows for periodical measures to protect the competitiveness of an economy, which includes import limits.

Although trade data does not show a surge in imports from Russia, Kazakh domestic producers are apparently suffering from a recently popular practice among Kazakh citizens to buy cars, furniture and home appliances in neighbouring Russia due to the weakness of the Russian ruble (the Russian currency has lost 47% of its value against the Kazakh tenge, according to Kommersant). The practice was criticized by the government and local car dealers are demanding measures to stop the trade.

Meanwhile, the Russian agriculture watchdog Rosselkholnadzor returned to Ukraine 66 tonnes of tinned fish that was bound for Kazakhstan. The watchdog said that "the veterinary certificate does not contain information confirming the safety of the product."

Significantly, these are yet more examples of souring relations between the two countries. Astana seems to have no tools enabling it to resist the growing pressure from Moscow. In November, Kazakhstan imposed a ban on imports of Russian alcohol, which was lifted after few days, immediately after a phone talk between the leaders of the two countries took place. At the same time, Russia has started unilaterally blocking transit of some EU-produced goods to Kazakhstan quoting sanitary requirements. The Kremlin clearly ignores the economic interests of its EEU partner demanding full political subordination of Astana. In this context, the fuss about the recent talks created by the Russian media outlets was aimed to prevent Astana from making any attempts to protect its market. 

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