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Russia To Lift Ban On Imports Of Meat And Wine From Moldova

Russia To Lift Ban On Imports Of Meat And Wine From Moldova
The Associated Press
Russia is lifting its ban on Moldovan wine and meat products, President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday after talks with the president of Moldova.
The move appeared to be aimed at easing Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization, which Moscow hopes to join next year.
"We agreed on the resumption of supplies of meat from Moldova, and wine," Putin said in televised comments made as he sat next to the Moldovan president, Vladimir Voronin, on the sidelines of a summit meeting of former Soviet republics in Belarus.
The heads of 11 former Soviet republics set out their views in the increasingly contentious debate over how the Commonwealth of Independent States can be transformed into an influential and effective organization. The question has long hung over the Moscow-dominated group, which skeptics see as little more than a talking shop that has been unable to resolve long-running conflicts between its members.
Russia banned imports of Moldovan wine earlier this year, citing quality concerns. A Moldovan official said at the time that the small, poor country would support Russia's entry into the WTO only if the wine ban were reversed and other imports of agricultural produce were allowed. Putin said imports would be tightly controlled and subject to quality checks by Moldovan and Russian officials. He indicated that only products going through approved warehouses would be imported, to protect against counterfeit or low-quality products. He did not say when the ban would be lifted but suggested that the process would start immediately. Voronin did not comment on the ban in the report on state-run Rossiya television.
Russia also prohibited Georgian wine imports last spring, and both bans were widely seen as politically motivated punishment for West-facing shifts by the leaders of the two countries, which have sought to decrease Russian influence. Moldova and Georgia scrambled to find new markets for their wine, which was renowned in the Soviet Union. As a less expensive alternative to imports from other regions, the wine was highly popular in Russia before the bans.
Wine exports made up about 30 percent of Moldova's gross domestic product, and Moldova sold 80 percent of its wine to Russia before the ban. Last year Moldova exported 313 million worth of wine.
Russia is closing in on its long-held goal of WTO membership. It signed a bilateral deal this month with the United States that was the last major obstacle to its joining the 149-member group that sets global trade rules, but Georgia and Moldova had threatened to block Moscow's bid.
Trade Minister German Gref of Russia said this month that he hoped the disputes with Moldova and Georgia could be resolved and the bilateral deals Russia had forged with 57 countries could be consolidated by the middle of 2007.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, whose oil-rich Central Asian nation holds the rotating presidency of the Commonwealth of Independent States, said at a closing news conference that fewer than one-third of the group's 1,600 agreements were being implemented. "But that does not discredit the idea of integration," Nazarbayev said. "We have great potential for cooperation. We need a new, effective mechanism, a new impulse for new energy." He said Commonwealth leaders had called on the group's cabinet to prepare a reform plan by June 1.
Nazarbayev has proposed turning the Commonwealth into a free-trade zone like the European Union. That could help keep in the fold Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, which are seeking to move out of Russia's shadow and have expressed skepticism about the future of the organization. The three, along with Azerbaijan, have formed a group seen as an alternative to the Commonwealth.
"Our summit is being closely watched, not just in the Commonwealth of Independent States but the entire world," Lukashenko warned at the opening ceremony in Belarus's shining new National Library.


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