CEOL
YU, Russia sign free trade agreement

BELGRADE, Aug 30, 2000 -- (AFP) Yugoslavia and Russia signed a free trade agreement Monday, revoking custom fees in a bid to boost economic cooperation, state agency Tanjug reported.

The accord, which became valid immediately, is the first such agreement Russia has signed with any country outside the Commonwealth of Independent States, which comprises Russia and 11 other former Soviet republics.

The deal was signed by Russia's Industry Minister Alexander Dondukov and Yugoslavia's Foreign Trade Minister Borislav Vukovic at a ceremony in Belgrade.

It is expected to contribute to an increase in trade, development and strengthen economic ties.

The move was immediately welcomed by President Slobodan Milosevic, who described it as a "major and radical step in bringing the two countries closer, as well as a promotion of overall economic ties," the agency reported.

Dondukov, who met separately with Milosevic, said that the accord would help streamline the organization of Russian gas deliveries to Yugoslavia, Tanjug reported.

Last September, Belgrade agreed a supply deal with Russia's Gazprom gas monopoly for deliveries of gas, partly as a humanitarian package after the 1999 NATO bombing campaign which destroyed most of the Yugoslav oil production.

But delivery has been unreliable, reportedly as a result of Belgrade's slowness to pay.

Yugoslavia, or rather its dominant republic Serbia, has turned eastwards for economic and political aid after NATO's three month air campaign, as the West has declined to provide assistance as long as Milosevic remains in power.



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