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Russia, Belarus sign trade agreement, stabilization loan pending

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Russia and Belarus signed an agreement on measures to develop economic ties Friday during a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Russia-Belarus Union State.
MINSK, March 23 (RIA Novosti) -- Russia and Belarus signed an agreement on measures to develop economic ties Friday during a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Russia-Belarus Union State.

The countries will abolish trade restrictions and introduce trade protection measures, and have agreed on a set of principles for the collection of indirect taxes for exports and imports.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said the agreement met international trade standards and would contribute to the transition to a market economy for the two countries and strengthen the single economic space.

The Russian premier also said that the Russian government would shortly consider granting a $1.5 billion stabilization loan to Belarus.

"The issue will soon be settled," Fradkov said after the meeting, adding that "we have to make sure that the [loan] benefits our relationship and helps solve economic issues with Belarus."

In parallel, Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky said the two countries could soon establish a Customs Union.

He said, "The main task of the [economic cooperation] agreement is to establish a Customs Union as soon as possible."

The Russian premier said that the rise in gas prices for Belarus would not hamper bilateral relations. He added that the Council of Ministers had approved a plan for the development of bilateral socio-economic ties for 2007 and up to 2009 and coordinated the 2008 fuel and energy balance for the Union.

Belarus's government requested a loan from Russia February 22 due to rises in oil and natural gas prices imported from Russia. On January 1, Russia raised the price of its gas supplies to Belarus to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters from $46.7 in 2006, which sparked an energy dispute between the two countries and triggered more accusations in Europe that Russia is using oil and gas as a political weapon.

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