The presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia signed a package of deals on Friday to create a customs union with common tariffs, paving the way for a single economic space.
"The common customs territory starts functioning as of July 1 (2010) in Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan," Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said in Minsk after a meeting of the three ex-Soviet states' leaders.
"Our end goal is to create a single economic space, and the Customs Union is a major step toward it," Lukashenko said.
Speaking at a news conference after a meeting of the post-Soviet Eurasian Economic Community, aimed at establishing a single economic space for member states, Dmitry Medvedev said the customs union is a new phase in cooperation between the countries.
"We have entered a new phase of cooperation," Medvedev said. "This is an extremely important and long-awaited event that has taken place after very complex negotiations."
Medvedev said other former Soviet countries are welcome to join. But he dismissed parallels to an accord that led to the breakup of the Soviet Union, which was also signed in Belarus.
Tajikistan will for some time be an observer in the union, the Central Asian state's leader, Emomali Rakhmon said. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said Kyrgyzstan will work to join the customs union.
The Kazakh leader said the customs union will bring Russia an additional $400 billion in revenue and over $16 billion to Kazakhstan and Belarus. Nursultan Nazarbayev said the union could help the countries take key positions on the global energy and grain markets.
The countries' aggregate GDP is $2 trillion, and their trade turnover is estimated at $900 billion.
The new deal could delay Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization. Russia is the largest economy outside the 153-member trade body. Moscow earlier said it could seek membership in the WTO together with Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The agreement on the union will come into force on January 1, when the three countries will start using common foreign trade tariffs, but all taxes are to be coordinated by July.
MINSK, November 27 (RIA Novosti)
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