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Belarus's PM says satisfied with Moscow oil talks

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Belarus is satisfied with the results of two-day oil talks in Moscow this week, Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov said Saturday.
MINSK, January 13 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus is satisfied with the results of two-day oil talks in Moscow this week, Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov said Saturday.

The two countries settled their dispute over oil supplies Friday. Russia reduced the oil export duty for its neighbor after Belarus lifted its transit tax on Russian crude supplies to Europe earlier this week opening the way for the resumption of Europe-bound exports and the start of the talks.

"Those were not concessions from Belarus, but a civilized way of settling disputes with proper calculations and an economic analysis," said Kobyakov, who led the Belarusian delegation at the talks.

The oil dispute between the ex-Soviet states at the start of 2007 affected Russia's European consumers. Moscow briefly cut off crude supplies as Belarus started siphoning off oil as payment in kind for its transit services. Russia refused to pay the transit fee Minsk imposed in revenge for the Russian export duty.

Russia agreed to cut the export duty from $180.7 to $53 per metric ton, effective from January 1, 2007. The two countries initialed an agreement to this end Friday, while also pledging to remove other trade barriers.

The end of duty-free oil supplies to Belarus is seen as a major blow on the economy of a country that has relied heavily on receipts from refining and re-exporting Russian oil. Oil product exports account for 50% of Belarus's export revenues totaling $15 billion a year.

Starting from 2007, Russia also canceled a preferential price for natural gas supplies to Belarus, with which it is building a union state, doubling it to $100 per 1,000 cu m, in line with its drive to gradually bring gas prices for former Soviet satellites closer to European levels.

Kobyakov said six billion metric tons of oil Belarus was to receive from Russia for domestic consumption would be duty-free, whereas the other 14 billion metric tons to be refined and re-exported would be subject to the duty.

He also said Belarus would revise its export duty for oil products shortly to bring it in conformity with Russian figures.

Russia complained about huge losses inflicted on its budget from crude supplies to its western neighbor. Belarus refined oil and re-exported it to third countries, paying no taxes to the Russian budget.

Kobyakov also said Russia's demand to speed up the transfer to WTO principles in bilateral trade was fair enough given both countries' bids to join the global trade body. He said they had outlined ways at the talks to streamline access to the Russian market for Belarusian goods.

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