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Bilateral talks dominate CEFTA summit

JASNÁ-To some, this year's Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) summit, where Slovakia was the chair country, seemed more groundless than groundbreaking. As Czech Prime Minister Václav Klaus put it, "CEFTA has moved ahead a little bit," but to say that the Czech Republic has a "good feeling about it would be too strong." The multilateral talks in this picturesque resort in the Low Tatra Mountains totalled less than three hours. Bilateral talks dominated. In the end, the member countries' premiers signed a general declaration lauding "CEFTA's perceptible contribution to mutual trade among the signatory countries" and expressing "confidence ...that the Slovenian side will minimalize its number of exceptions [in agriculture] and will be ready to abolish them by January 1, 1999."


Meeting down under. Taking a break from the CEFTA summit, Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar led a tour of the Demänovská ice cave near Jasná for Lithuanian Prime Minister Mindaugas Stankevichius.
TASR

JASNÁ-To some, this year's Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) summit, where Slovakia was the chair country, seemed more groundless than groundbreaking.

As Czech Prime Minister Václav Klaus put it, "CEFTA has moved ahead a little bit," but to say that the Czech Republic has a "good feeling about it would be too strong."

The multilateral talks in this picturesque resort in the Low Tatra Mountains totalled less than three hours. Bilateral talks dominated. In the end, the member countries' premiers signed a general declaration lauding "CEFTA's perceptible contribution to mutual trade among the signatory countries" and expressing "confidence ...that the Slovenian side will minimalize its number of exceptions [in agriculture] and will be ready to abolish them by January 1, 1999."

Representatives also agreed to "accelerate negotiations concerning the certification of industrial and agricultural products, including mutual recognition of test results and certificates."

CEFTA was founded in December 1992 by Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic as a loose organization aimed at eradicating obstacles inhibiting trade among the former East Bloc countries with a comparable level of economic development. The founding members, joined by Slovenia last year, agreed their goal would be to eliminate import tariffs by 2001. The only exception is agricultural products, where member states agreed that a complete liberalization is not realistic.

Trade liberalization among CEFTA members has been gradual, yet slower than some would wish. "I must say that despite the positive results CEFTA has achieved over the past four years, the European Union still offers more advantageous conditions for our producers and exporters than do Hungary and Poland," said Slovak Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar in his speech opening the summit.

According to Klaus, the summit's most important achievement was a decision to incorporate a sanctions mechanism for those who don't keep up with their duties - like Slovenia with certain agricultural products. However, no details of the mechanism were discussed in Jasná. "The very decision to try for something like that is a breakthrough," Klaus told the press.

Diplomatic two-step

According to officials from the Slovak Ministry of Economy, Mečiar's plan for the summit was to "strengthen practical relations" through bilateral meetings among the ten participating prime ministers - five from CEFTA member states and five from countries aiming for inclusion in the club (see related story, page 4).

The two most important meetings for the Slovak side were those between Mečiar and his Hungarian and Czech counterparts, Gyula Horn and Klaus. However, information from those talks suggested little in the way of improved relations.

As Horn told the Slovak daily Práca, he and Mečiar did not schedule a date for their official meeting, even though that is the hottest topic on the table. Mečiar was supposed to visit Budapest this summer, but cancelled his trip after a Budapest conference of Hungarians and Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries issued a declaration on autonomy that enraged many in Slovakia.

Mečiar's meeting with Klaus seemed focused less on diplomacy than on lecturing Klaus about the anti-Slovak campaign in the Czech media. "If you don't support us, at least don't do us harm," Mečiar's spokeswoman Magda Pospišilova quoted her boss as telling Klaus. "The Czech Republic's media campaign has been damaging Slovakia's interests for a long time,'' Mečiar said the day after he spoke with Klaus.

In denying any kind of anti-Slovak campaign in his country, Klaus gave a lecture of his own. "Every country is responsible for its life, its transformation," the Czech Premier said. "And in the end, [it is responsible also] for its image that is being created both at home and abroad.''

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