by Katya Gorchinskaya.
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso speaks to the press following talks with the Ukrainian president in Kyiv on Sept. 12. © AFP
In a concession to Russia, Ukraine and the European Union agreed delay implementation of a major trade agreement until the start of 2016, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said. They also appeared to be preparing to make more concessions after the ratification of the agreement, scheduled for next week.
EU Trade Commissioner Karl de Gucht said in Brussels that Ukraine, Russia and EU also agreed on extending unilateral trade preferences for Ukraine until the end of 2015 as well. They allowed Ukraine to boost exports to EU by 14 percent in the first half of this year, Barroso said.
De Gucht said these measures “give breathing space to discuss whatever problem may arise and then it will be up to the three parties concerned to see what they do after Jan. 1, 2016. I hope by then we come to a solution,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
The EU member states are yet to agree to the delayed start, which Barroso called “a compromise” among Ukraine, Russia and EU during trilateral consultations.
The three sides also agreed to continue discussing Russia’s complaints about the effects of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement on its markets on Nov. 17, President Petro Poroshenko said in Kyiv. He said the issues will be raised at the Association Council, the only body that can amend the text of the agreement after it is ratified and comes into effect. It was originally designed to fine-tune such agreements.
Both the Ukrainian and the European Parliament are preparing to ratify the Association Agreement, an overarching political agreement, on Sept. 16 in a synchronized session, which will be broadcast via video links, President Poroshenko announced at Yalta European Strategy conference in Kyiv.
“I am sure that will be one of the most important historic moments,” Poroshenko said.Kyiv Post+ offers special coverage of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the aftermath of the EuroMaidan Revolution.
The delays are part of Russia’s campaign to thwart Ukraine’s democratic progress and aspirations for closer EU integration, a drive that began after the EuroMaidan Revolution forced President Viktor Yanukovych out of power on Feb. 22. The most extreme aspects, of course, are Russia’s military invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and the Kremlin’s backing of a separatist war in eastern Ukraine. But Russia has also used trade as a weapon and cut off supplies of Russian natural gas to Ukraine while imposing import bans on many Ukrainian products.
The EU-Ukraine trade agreement was signed in June, and the technical preparation for its ratification by the European parliament is being done in record terms – 10 days instead of the usual three months. Its provisional application was supposed to start on Nov. 1, but after the new deal only the political part of the deal will start to work on that date.
A part of the reason for the rush with ratification was to cut time for Russia to bully Ukraine into backing out of the agreement, or amending the text to incorporate Kremlin’s suggestions.
Russia has been trying to derail the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union for years, using increasingly more aggressive tactics, from trade wars to real war in Donbass. It has also threatened to impose additional tariffs and other barriers on Ukraine, allegedly to protect its markets from illegal European goods. Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said on Sept. 12 Russia was preparing a response in case the trade deal comes into effect.
In the meantime, Russia also rolled out close to 2,400 objections and suggested amendments to the Association Agreement, which was initialed and sealed by the government of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Poroshenko said that there will be no changes to the text of the Association Agreement before ratification. However, this might change soon after ratification once the Association Council starts its work.
Although Ukraine’s foreign ministry said that the decision to postpone application of DCFTA was a “gesture of solidarity with Ukraine,” many in Ukraine and abroad saw it as another diplomatic victory by Russia, and feared that more is yet to come at the Nov. 17 Association Council, the body that typically starts to tweak association agreements to fix parts that prove dysfunctional after a year or more in operation. In Ukraine’s case, the first meeting is set just 17 days after the Association Agreement comes into effect.
“We tried to do our best to prevent this scenario, but couldn’t, ” one EU country diplomat said in Kyiv.
(Kyiv Post deputy chief editor Katya Gorchinskaya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org).