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    GREF HIGHLIGHTS RUSSIA-FINLAND TRADE BOOM

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    HELSINKI, FEBRUARY 20, 2004 (RIA NOVOSTI's Leonid Laakso) - Russia and Finland have no controversies in their economic relations at the present time, and their bilateral trade is experiencing an unprecedented boom, Russian Economics Minister Herman Gref told RIA Novosti.

    Gref co-chairs the Russo-Finnish Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Cooperation. On Friday, he met in Helsinki with his fellow co-chair, Foreign Trade Minister Paula Lehtomaki.

    At their meeting today, Gref and Lehtomaki discussed the ongoing talks between Russia and the European Union on planned EU expansion, as well as Russia's prospective accession to the World Trade Organization.

    "Finland is a traditional partner of ours, which always supports us, and we shared new information, agreeing on further interaction in dealing with related issues," the Russian minister reported.

    Gref and Lehtomaki also discussed the new Russian Customs Code, in force since January 1, and its impact on trade between the two nations, which (the impact) has so far been evaluated as positive. Each of the sides also advanced proposals as to how the efficiency of cooperation between Russian and Finnish customs agencies could be raised. One other topic high on the agenda was the preparation and implementation of Russia's Forestry Code, elaborated in association with Finnish specialists. The two co-chairs agreed to hold a second Forest Summit this next fall.

    In addition, Gref and Lehtomaki considered common strategies in the shipbuilding sector, specifically ones aimed at developing the icebreaker fleet. They also made arrangements for a joint business seminar to be held in April in the city of Rostov, in southern Russia.

    Lehtomaki described her meeting with Gref as "very useful," noting that it had proceeded "in the spirit of deep mutual understanding." Later in the day, Gref was received by the Finnish President, Tarja Halonen, and then took a flight back to Moscow.

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