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GIANT FREE TRADE ZONE WITH CENTRAL ASIA DISCUSSED

Mečiar seals trade deals with Russia

The Slovak government was looking to wrap up some business deals and propose a few more when its heavy hitters embarked on a trip to Russia and to Turkmenistan in late October. From the looks of it, they accomplished what they wanted. Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar spent two days in Moscow sealing an agreement by which Russia will inject $150 million - $70 million more than it had previously offered - to complete construction on the first double block at the controversial Mochovce nuclear power plant. Mochovce's completion has been on hold for almost two and a half years due to debates with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) over funding, and arguments with Austria and other countries, environmental groups and corporations such as Electricité de France (EdF) over the plant's control and safety.


Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, who believes Slovakia is the bridge between East and West in Europe, meets Prime Minister Victor Chemomyrdin of Russia.
TASR

The Slovak government was looking to wrap up some business deals and propose a few more when its heavy hitters embarked on a trip to Russia and to Turkmenistan in late October. From the looks of it, they accomplished what they wanted.

Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar spent two days in Moscow sealing an agreement by which Russia will inject $150 million - $70 million more than it had previously offered - to complete construction on the first double block at the controversial Mochovce nuclear power plant. Mochovce's completion has been on hold for almost two and a half years due to debates with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) over funding, and arguments with Austria and other countries, environmental groups and corporations such as Electricité de France (EdF) over the plant's control and safety.

Economic Minister Ján Ducký was upbeat, saying Russia "offered the best credit conditions." Mečiar and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin signed four other pacts dealing with air and rail transportation, the environment and cooperation in civil defense and emergency prevention and response. No details were available on these side accords.

Slovak and Russian leaders also talked about forming a trade alliance and then widening those relations into a free trade zone and even a customs union, said Sergei Kozlík the Finance Minister. However, he cautioned that true economic expansion between the two countries was not imminent. "It is necessary to proceed step-by-step," Kozlík said.

It is not hard to see why Slovakia is so enamored with forging stronger trading ties with Russia. While it runs a trade surplus with many of its biggest trading partners such as the Czech Republic and Germany, its exchanges continually run in the red with Moscow. While trade with Russia constitutes the second largest volume of imports into Slovakia, it ranks only seventh among Slovak exports. Overall trade between the two countries has already exceeded $1 billion in 1995.

Extending economic cooperation with Russia wasn't the only thing that Mečiar and cabinet officials had in mind. The prime minister, accompanied by leading Slovak businessmen, shoved off to Turkmenistan on November 1 with even bigger visions of economic plums dancing in their heads. After meeting with Turkmen President Saparmurad Nijazov, Mečiar announced the possible creation of an economic zone between CEFTA countries and 10 countries in central Asia, including Iran and Turkey. The zone would include a market in central Asia of 300 million people, Mečiar said.

Compiled from press reports in TASR and Národná Obroda.

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