The permanent body that runs the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union trade bloc has issued fresh assurances that a long-awaited customs code will come into effect on January 1 as previously planned, despite ongoing tensions among member nations.
The Eurasian Union Commission said in a statement on November 14 that four of the five member states — Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia — have all completed the ratification process in their respective parliaments. Legislators in Kyrgyzstan are the last yet to adopt the code, and officials at the country’s parliament have told EurasiaNet.org the issue has not even been placed on the official agenda. Still, Kyrgyz approval is broadly considered a formality.
The Customs Code is intended to significantly ease the process of transporting goods across EEU borders. In almost all instances, declarations will be filed electronically rather than in hard copy. Details required in the declarations will be streamlined and clearance times are to be markedly reduced, from the current upper limit of 24 hours to four hours. The bloc’s Customs Code will in principle override the regulations of individual countries.
At least that’s the idea.
Kyrgyz exporters are still wondering whether the code is going to have any bearing on the persisting jams at the Kazakh border, which are caused in large part by Astana insisting on imposing stricter controls on goods entering the country. That intensified regime came into effect on October 10 amid a diplomatic row ignited by remarks from outgoing Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev accusing Kazakhstan of being riddled with corruption. Kazakhstan has said stepping up its system of checks is its ways of combating the rampant proliferation of contraband brought into Kyrgyzstan from China.
Viktor Vodolatsky, a high-ranking member of the Russian State Duma, appeared to reflect Moscow’s hopes when he said last month that he was confident that the Customs Code would help in defusing the dispute between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The code would minimize the proliferation of “grey” schemes, he said, referring to the smuggling claims.
But experts in Kazakhstan are not so sure.
Political analyst Ruslan Zhangazy said that even when the Customs Code is adopted, national governments will continue to enforce their own rules. And Kazakhstan is determined to stamp out the contraband issue, he said.
“The State Revenue Committee recently announced that if smuggling were effectively combated, the volume of customs duties would increase 300-fold. That would be an additional flow of revenue for the state coffers and it constitutes a strong argument [for taking action],” he said.
The failure of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to settle their differences has some wondering whether the EEU is a viable entity if intra-bloc trade can be brought to a halt so easily. In recent weeks, Kazakhstan has expanded its list of Kyrgyz goods, mainly dairy products, banned from its markets for failing to abide by its sanitary standards.
There is a bitter irony in the fact that Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev has traditionally been a most ardent champion of free-flowing trade within the Eurasian space. Speaking to MIR television station in April, he predicted that the EEU would be become a customs barrier free-area and that goods would circulate without impediment.
“We need to free the path for trade and the exchange of goods by opening borders and markets for trade,” Nazarbayev said.