Eurasec admits Uzbekistan, mulls energy, customs, currency

ST. PETERSBURG, January 25 (RIA Novosti) - The Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec) of former Soviet republics gathered Wednesday in St. Petersburg to admit Uzbekistan and discuss energy, customs and currency issues.

The five members of Eurasec set up in 2000 agreed to admit Uzbekistan into the organization, which already includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.

Eurasec Secretary General Grigory Rapota said the accession of Uzbekistan, the largest Central Asian nation in terms of population, would boost integration within the union and expand its market.

As a country boasting a vast agrarian and industrial potential, Uzbekistan will help address energy, water and transportation problems in Central Asia, Rapota said.

Nursultan Nazarbayev, the leader of Kazakhstan, said the admission could help make Eurasec one of the most influential organizations in the world. He said the organization had made substantial progress and already had observer status in the UN.

In reference to the recent developments concerning Iran's nuclear program, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for setting up a global infrastructure to provide equal access to atomic energy for all interested nations in strict accordance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"The key element of such an infrastructure should be a system of international centers providing nuclear fuel cycle services, including [uranium] enrichment under close supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] on a non-discriminatory basis," Putin said, noting that Russia had already offered to open such a center on its territory.

After Iran resumed uranium enrichment research two weeks ago, arousing international concerns that it could be used to produce bomb-grade material, Russia came up with an initiative to enrich uranium for Iran's nuclear reactors on its territory. The proposal was seen as a possible way to defuse tensions around Iran and prevent its referral to the UN Security Council.

Eurasec representatives also indicated the need to move toward a customs union by signing agreements that would introduce common customs tariffs by 2007.

"We cannot let mutual trade terms be aggravated, therefore our governments should work out a common customs tariff," said Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Lukashenko also suggested that 80% of customs tariffs should be made uniform for all the union members by January 1, 2007.

Nazarbayev agreed with Lukashenko and also praised the agreement that Kazakhstan and Russia had signed recently to open a Eurasian Development Bank with $1.5 billion in authorized capital and branches in St. Petersburg and Kazakhstan's Alma-Ata.

"This bank will help expand trade and economic ties and implement investment projects and programs," he said.

The bank is seen as a way to pour investment into joint Eurasec projects and help create an integrated currency market, on which Eurasec members signed an agreement Wednesday.

"The agreement is designed to expand the use of national currencies in the foreign economic projects of Eurasec countries," Putin said.

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