EU: Russia should drop trade barriers against Estonia By MICHAEL TARM Associated Press Writer

Copyright, 2003. The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — The European Union says it expects Russia to drop what are seen as punitively high trade tariffs on Estonian goods when the Baltic state joins the EU next year. Moscow, however, has given no indication it intends to heed the call.

“We very much hope they will eliminate (the tariffs),” Arancha Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, told The Associated Press Thursday. “It would be discriminatory treatment against Estonia if they aren’t.”

The tariffs, which double the standard trade duties on all Estonian products, have severely hampered Estonian access to neighboring Russia’s markets and have remained a major bilateral irritant since they were imposed in 1995.

Many Estonians said the tariffs were politically motivated, with Moscow at the time expressing displeasure with Estonia’s pro-West, pro-NATO bent and with what it alleged were citizenship policies that discriminated against Estonia’s large Russian minority.

The Baltic Sea country of 1.4 million people is one of just a handful of countries globally that must pay the double tariffs. Russia has granted all other ex-Soviet republics, including Estonia’s two Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Lithuania, most-favored-trading status.

Before Estonia’s successful EU referendum last month, leaders here said Russia would have no choice but to drop the barriers when Estonia joins the bloc. The tariffs will violate a 1994 EU-Russia accord obliging Moscow to grant all EU states favored-trade status, they argued.Gonzalez said that was also the EU’s position. “We have drawn (Russia’s) attention to the fact that Estonia will
have to be treated like any other EU member state when it joins,” she said, speaking by telephone from Brussels. “We have discussed this with Russia. If it doesn’t happen, we will take it from there.”

Many Estonian business leaders say they aren’t convinced Russia will abolish the tariffs, saying they expect Moscow to dig in its heels and demand negotiations on the issue.”Nothing will change,” Raivo Vare, who heads Estonia’s Pakterminal oil-transit company, was quoted as saying in Estonia’s Paevaleht daily Thursday. “They (Russian authorities) will find 110 ways how to avoid doing it.”

Russia hasn’t declared its official stand.”It’s a rather difficult question,” Dmitri Ivanov, press spokesman for the Russian embassy in Estonia, told AP. “It is still under discussion.” He declined to elaborate.Before the Soviet Union unraveled in 1991, a majority of Estonian exports went to Russia. Today, less than 10 percent do, with the EU by far the largest trading partner now.

Tariffs weren’t the only reason many Estonian producers gave up on Russia. Many concluded in the 1990s that Russian markets were too unstable and chose instead to forge trade links with wealthier countries like Finland and Sweden.