RUSSIA, EU NEGOTIATING VITAL ECONOMIC ISSUES

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MOSCOW, MARCH 26, 2004, (RIA NOVOSTI) - Russia's Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and EU trade commissioner Pascal Lamy are to discuss trade-and-economic problems stemming from the European Union's expansion March 26 in Brussels. The EU is to officially expand once again May 1, 2004.

Quite possibly, all trade-and-economic aspects of the EU's expansion will be settled in Brussels March 26, a source close to the talks told RIANOVOSTI some time ago.

Ten countries, i.e. Cyprus, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Malta, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia, are to join the EU soon enough. These countries are to introduce various trade restrictions, i.e. quotas and other barriers, with regard to Russian exports in line with the European commission's regulations.

Russia's possible annual losses as a result of the EU's expansion were first estimated at $150 million. However, German Gref said early this March that Russia might suffer no losses at all; he was commenting on the pace of Russia-EU trade-and-economic talks.

Russian and European experts negotiated without respite over the last few months, what with Russia managing to persuade the EU to allow new members to receive Russian goods in the future, as well; among other things, this implies greater steel-export quotas and those pertaining to nuclear-fuel sales.

Russian metallurgists supply more than 150,000 tons of steel per year to the markets of new EU members. Moreover, Russia annually earns $34-40 million as a result of nuclear-fuel sales to these countries.

The Russian side is mostly concerned over Kaliningrad-region transits via Lithuanian territory because freight haulers now have to pay sizeable duties there.

The sides have already agreed that, instead of getting worse, the relevant customs-clearance regime as regards freight traffic between Kaliningrad, which is Russia's Baltic enclave, and mainland Russia might even be simplified. Russian haulers will thus face a smaller financial burden, the source noted in conclusion.

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