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Bilateral talks at CEFTA summit

This year's Central Europe Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) summit at the central Slovak resort of Jasná in the picturesque Low Tatra mountains on September 13-14 was picked with a goal in mind: Get the group business out of the way and let the Premiers get down to productive bilateral talks. Slovakia, the chair country this year, can call the shots. According to one official involved in arranging the conference, Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar wanted more face-to-face meetings with his counterparts than was allowed last year in the Czech town of Brno. "It's the Prime Minister's intent to enhance cooperation among CEFTA countries," said Peter Lukáč, director of the EU integration department at the Ministry of Economy. "Mečiar wants to strengthen practical relations."

This year's Central Europe Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) summit at the central Slovak resort of Jasná in the picturesque Low Tatra mountains on September 13-14 was picked with a goal in mind: Get the group business out of the way and let the Premiers get down to productive bilateral talks. Slovakia, the chair country this year, can call the shots. According to one official involved in arranging the conference, Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar wanted more face-to-face meetings with his counterparts than was allowed last year in the Czech town of Brno. "It's the Prime Minister's intent to enhance cooperation among CEFTA countries," said Peter Lukáč, director of the EU integration department at the Ministry of Economy. "Mečiar wants to strengthen practical relations."

Thus, the summit's organizers opted for a two-day conference and a more relaxed setting to foster "a little longer, more informal" face-to-face diplomacy. In Brno, Lukáč related, there was "much less possibility for contacts among the Premiers. It was more businesslike."

Still, the five CEFTA signatory countries - Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovenia - are expected to ratify two protocols, one on rules of goods origin and another on further liberalization in the trade of sensitive industrial goods. Both provisions will take effect on January 1, 1997. Officials from Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia and the Ukraine will attend as observers, with Romania the closest to being accepted as a new member but not at this conference.

The government has trumpeted Slovakia's holding of the CEFTA chairmanship, likely because Mečiar has been one of the organization's biggest advocates. So dependent on exports for the country's economic well-being, the Mečiar Administration wants to enhance CEFTA's profile as much as possible. "We believe CEFTA is the main instrument to allow for trade increases," echoed Lukáč. "There's no doubt about it, CEFTA benefits everyone. In general, trade in the region has been enhanced [through CEFTA]."

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