EU and Ukraine suspend trade pact
Ukraine and the EU are to delay the entry into life of a strategic trade treaty for more than one year due to Russian concerns.
The free trade pact was originally to enter into force on 1 November.
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But following meetings between European Commission trade chief Karel De Gucht, Ukraine’s foreign minister, and Russia’s economy minister in Brussels on Friday (12 September) it will now be implemented on 31 December 2015.
Defending the deal, De Gucht told press it means Russia will not impose trade restrictions on Ukraine in the next 15 months.
He also said it is “advantageous to your country [Ukraine]” because the EU will extend its low tariff regime for Ukrainian exports while Ukraine can continue to impose tariffs on EU goods.
He said the decision was made due to the “very difficult economic situation in Ukraine”.
He added: “This is part and parcel of the comprehensive peace process in Ukraine”.
When asked if the content of the EU trade treaty can be changed in the run-up to December next year, he replied: “We will discuss everything that is brought to the table”.
The trade pact is 5kg of technical documents, but it has symbolic value in Ukraine.
Hundreds of people died in the “Euromaidan” revolution in February when Ukraine’s former leader decided not to sign it.
Thousands more died after Russia attacked Ukraine to stop it joining Western blocs.
One Ukraine-based EU diplomat told EUobserver the De Gucht news caused “shock, astonishment”.
He noted that European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso and Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko had earlier the same day in Kiev spoken of ratifying the treaty on 16 September and implementing it on 1 November.
Barroso has on several occasions said Russia cannot have a veto on EU-Ukraine ties.
Referring to the De Gucht talks on Friday, he said they will “hopefully, [be] meeting some Russian concerns”.
Poroshenko said he had asked the EU to “defer” the lifting of Ukrainian import tariffs on EU goods and Ukraine's compliance with EU food safety standards.
He ruled out changing the content of the treaty, however.
Back in Brussels, De Gucht noted that ratification will still go ahead on 16 September “to my understanding”.
He added that EU countries still have to give their blessing to the trade pact delay.
The EU earlier on Friday imposed economic sanctions on Russia over its invasion of east Ukraine, with Russia threatening to retaliate with “asymmetric” measures.
But De Gucht said he did not discuss the sanctions with the Russian minister because they are “out of my remit”.