Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are stepping up efforts to join the Customs Union that was founded in 2010 by Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, officials from the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) announced on December 19.
"Today, Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon announced that Tajikistan is both willing to join the Customs Union and has offered to start creating a working group," secretary general of EurAsEC, Tair Mansurov, said, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
EurAsEC originated from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) customs union, which was established between the same three states in 1996, before expanding to include Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Kyrgyzstan is already on the way to joining today's three-country Customs Union, EurAsEC has also claimed. EurAsEC's chairman, Viktor Khristenko, said in an interview with Voice of Russia that a road map for Kyrgyzstan's accession is likely to be approved by the free trade union in November 2013. That would put the Central Asian country on track to join the following year. Kyrgyz Economy and Industry Minister Temir Sariyev said on December 3 that Bishkek would have completed all procedures needed for entry into the Customs Union by 2014.
Moscow is keenly pushing membership in the Customs Union, which it says it intends to build into a "Eurasian Economic Union," along the lines of the EU, only omitting the mistakes, according to the plan. It has been putting pressure on Ukraine in particular to join, which would scupper Kyiv's attempts to agree a free trade agreement with Brussels. That move is seen by some as illustrating that Russia's motivation is at least partly to reassert its influence in the region of former Soviet states.
"Let's make no mistake about it," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in reference to the Customs Union earlier this month. "We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it."
However, international institutions have praised the Customs Union. In a report in November, the EBRD called the effort "the first successful example in regional economic integration between countries of the former Soviet Union."
"[T]he Customs Union has in fact introduced mechanisms of trade integration, particularly by lowering non-tariff trade barriers," the EBRD added. "Potentially the union can bring further benefits such as improved cross-border infrastructure and strengthened institutions. Since the creation of the union, trade among the three countries has doubled."
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