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    Ukraine president presses for free trade zone with Hungary

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    KIEV, September 13 (RIA Novosti) - Ukraine's president called for the creation Wednesday of a free trade zone between his country and Hungary, a European Union member.

    At a meeting with Hungarian parliamentary speaker Katalin Szili, where they discussed bilateral relations in the context of Ukraine's aspirations to European integration, President Viktor Yushchenko said: "We need to set out a policy for a swift transition to a free trade regime."

    Ukraine, which has sought EU membership since Yushchenko came to power following a popular uprising in 2004, is implementing a three-year action plan it signed with the EU in February 2005 to bring its standards closer to European norms.

    Simultaneously, the country is working to establish a free trade zone with the EU and sign an associated membership agreement as early as in 2007, which will later allow it to seek permanent membership in the union.

    "We understand this is not an easy road, and we need partners here," the presidential press office quoted Yushchenko as saying.

    Szili said Hungary, which joined the EU in 2004, will back the signing of a new agreement between the EU and Ukraine in 2007, which will confer associate membership in the 25-nation union on the former Soviet republic.

    Ukraine's Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said late last year that Ukraine could join the EU by 2015.

    The EU, which admitted 10 new East European members in May 2004, is set to admit new Balkan countries and Romania in the next four years. It will also start talks with Muslim Turkey, but member countries are divided on the wisdom of further enlargement.

    Opponents cite the gap in political and democratic culture with former communist bloc countries and difficulties in running a vast territory.

    Along with EU membership, Ukraine is seeking to join the World Trade Organization and NATO, objectives Yushchenko declared in early 2005 to be foreign policy priorities for the country.

    Ukraine's new government, formed this summer and led by Yushchenko's political opponent, Viktor Yanukovych, has balanced the European integration rhetoric with appeals for closer ties with Russia.

    Yushchenko is expected to visit Hungary early next year.

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