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Ex-Soviet republics agree draft agreement on free trade zone

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The Economic Council of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) approved on Friday a draft agreement on a free trade zone that would move the grouping of most of the former Soviet republics further toward liberalized trade.

The Economic Council of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) approved on Friday a draft agreement on a free trade zone that would move the grouping of most of the former Soviet republics further toward liberalized trade.

The document was originally drafted by Russia's Economic Development Ministry in 2008. The draft agreement agreed in Yalta would cut import duties to a minimum, and suggests that export duties be harmonized and eventually abolished.

The prime ministers of the CIS member states will discuss the document in Minsk in May.

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said export duties remained a stumbling block in the negotiations.

"Russia proceeds from the assumption that charging export duties is the sovereign right of every country," Shuvalov said, adding that Russia would cancel export duties at some point but it would only be done as part of wider tax reforms.

Sergei Glazyev, secretary at large of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, has said that a free trade zone might be launched as soon as by the end of 2011.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko said earlier this month he hoped the agreement on the free trade zone would be signed soon, and added that Ukraine was taking an active part in the discussions.

The CIS Economic Council is meeting in Yalta, Ukraine, on the initiative of President Viktor Yanukovych.

The CIS is a loose association of former Soviet republics. It consists of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Ukraine has not ratified the CIS Charter but participates in its activities.

YALTA, April 15 (RIA Novosti)

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