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Russia, Belarus vow to step up economic integration efforts

Russia, Belarus vow to step up economic in MOSCOW, February 3 (RIA Novosti) - Russia and Belarus will step up efforts to create a customs union and a common economic space, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday. "The creation of a common economic space and a customs union remains an urgent priority for us, we are ready to reinvigorate bilateral efforts and those within the EurAsEC [post-Soviet economic group] to these ends," Medvedev said speaking at a session of the Supreme State Council, the ruling body for the Union State the two countries have been trying to establish since 1996. Earlier it was announced that the customs union would be set up in 2009. The common economic space would include streamlining agricultural legislation, boosting mutual investment, and adopting a common currency. The goals remain largely on paper. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, now on a visit to Moscow, said the two countries had agreed to intensify trade. The leader of Belarus, which is dependent on cheap energy supplies and loans from Russia, said bilateral trade reached about $35 billion last year, a 30% increase on 2007. Russia announced on Friday that it would transfer the second part of a $2 billion, 15-year stabilization loan to Belarus earlier than planned. Originally the second $1 billion tranche was due to be transferred at the end of February.

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