KIEV, Nov. 14 – Ukraine cleared the last remaining hurdle towards joining the World Trade Organization this year by reaching a trade agreement with Kyrgyzstan, Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said Wednesday.
The two countries had been in a stalemate for years over a disputed $27.3 million debt that Kyrgyzstan claimed Ukraine owed since 1992. The breakthrough came following two-day talks led by First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov in Bishkek.
“The last agreement, extremely important for completing the accession to the WTO, has been signed,” Yatseniuk said. “Mykola Yanovych [Azarov] and I haven’t slept for two nights and lost several kilograms of weight.”
Ukraine had been refusing to accept the debt as the state debt amid fears the move would trigger an avalanche of similar claims by other countries, such as Belarus and Russia.
Belarus, for instance, claims Ukrainian companies owed about $130 million to their Belarusan counterparts when the former Soviet Union collapsed.
“Ukraine has never accepted, does not accept and will never accept the debts formed in 1992-1993 as the state debt,” Yatseniuk said.
But the breakthrough at the talks with Bishkek came after Ukraine had used a trick to get around the problem by deciding to send $27.3 million to Kyrgyzstan as “humanitarian aid.”
The Cabinet of Minister earlier on Wednesday approved a set of measures, including the payment of 138 million hryvnias, or $27.3 million, in “humanitarian aid” to Kyrgyzstan. The money was earmarked as relief funding following the earthquake in that country.
Sending the relief aid to Kyrgyzstan has been suggested by President Viktor Yushchenko, who issued a special decree Tuesday asking the government to approve the payment. The final approval came as the talks in Bishkek were underway.
The signing of the agreement with Kyrgyzstan lifts the last remaining obstacle on the way of Ukraine’s accession to the WTO, according to Yatseniuk.
The government will now have to send a report to a special WTO working group in Geneva that monitors Ukraine’s progress on the way of the accession. The report will be sent “in the nearest future,” Yatseniuk said, suggesting the country may become a member of the WTO before the end of the year.
Joining the WTO is one of Yushchenko’s most important economic policy and trade initiatives, and is expected to boost Ukraine’s exports to the rest of the world.
Ukraine’s accession to the WTO will also open way for a free trade agreement with the European Union, further strengthening trade ties between the two.
The growing exports will boost Ukraine’s economy and accelerate the pace of its economic growth by two percentage points annually, the government said.
Ukraine’s economy expanded 7.3% on the year in January through October, according to the State Statistics Committee, suggesting the economy was on track to exceed the government’s 2007 growth forecast of 6.5%. The government forecast growth will reach 7.2% on the year in 2008.
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said most of Ukraine’s economy has been generally prepared for the accession, but some sectors, such as farming, may face greater competition.
“Experts believe Ukraine has good chances of successfully adapting to world markets of grain, oilseed,” Yanukovych said. “But as far as the farming sector is concerned, we have to be ready for certain difficulties.” (tl/ez)