Tag: Customs union

Effects of Trade Wars on Belarus

20160620 FREE Policy Brief

The trade wars following the 2014 events in Ukraine affected not only the directly involved participants, but also countries like Belarus that were affected through international trade linkages. According to my estimations based on a model outlined in Ossa (2014), these trade wars led to an increase in the trade flow through Belarus and thereby an increase of its tariff revenue. At the same time, because of a ban on imports in the sectors of meat and dairy products, the tariff revenue of Russia declined. As a member of the Eurasian Customs Union (EACU), Belarus can only claim a fixed portion of its total tariff revenue. Since the decline in the tariff revenue of Russia led to a decline in the total tariff revenue of the EACU, there was a decrease in the after-redistribution tariff revenue of Belarus. As a result, Belarusian welfare decreased. To avoid further welfare declines, Belarus should argue for a modification of the redistribution schedule. Alternatively, Belarus could increase its welfare during trade wars by shifting from being a part of the EACU to only being a part of the CIS Free Trade Area (FTA). If Belarus was only part of the CIS FTA, the optimal tariffs during trade wars should be higher than the optimal tariffs without trade wars. The optimal response to the increased trade flow through Belarus is higher tariffs.

Following the political protests in 2014, Ukraine terminated its membership in the CIS Free Trade Area (FTA) and moved towards becoming a part of the EU. The political protests evolved into an armed conflict and a partial loss of Ukrainian territory. These events led to Western countries introducing sanctions against some Russian citizens and enterprises. In response, Russia introduced a ban on imports from EU countries, Australia, Norway, and USA in the sectors of meat products, dairy products, and vegetables, fruits and nut products. In addition, both Ukraine and Russia increased the tariffs on imports from each other in the above-mentioned sectors.

Clearly, the trade wars affected directly involved participants such as the EU countries, Russia, and Ukraine. At the same time, countries like Belarus that were not directly involved in the trade wars, were also affected because of international trade linkages. It is important to understand the influence of trade wars on none-participating countries. To address this question, a framework with many countries and international trade linkages will be utilized and I will in this policy brief present some of my key findings.

Framework and Data

To evaluate the effects of the trade wars, I use the methodology outlined in Ossa (2014). This framework is based on the monopolistic competition market structure that was introduced into international trade by Krugman (1979, 1981). The framework in Ossa (2014) allows for many countries and sectors, and for a prediction of the outcome if one or several countries changes their tariffs. Perroni and Whallye (2000) and Caliendo and Parro (2012) present alternative frameworks with many countries that can also be used to estimate the welfare effects of tariff changes. The important advantage of the framework introduced in Ossa (2014) is that only data on trade flows, domestic production, and tariffs are needed to evaluate the outcomes of a change in tariffs, though the model itself contains other variables like transportation costs, the number of firms, and productivities.

It should also be pointed out that the framework in Ossa (2014) is not an example of a CGE model as it does not contain features such as investment, savings, and taxes. Since the framework in Ossa (2014) is simpler than CGE models, the effects of a tariff change can more easily be tracked and interpreted. On the other hand, this framework does not take into account spillover effects of tariff changes on for example capital formation and trade in assets.

The data on trade flows and domestic production come from the seventh version of the Global Trade Analysis Project database (GTAP 7). The data on tariffs come from the Trade Analysis Information System Data Base (TRAINS). The estimation of the model is done for 47 countries/regions and the sectors of meat and dairy products.


According to my estimations, because of the ban on imports by Russia, the trade flow through Belarus increased. Belarusian imports of meat products are estimated to have increased by 28%, and imports of dairy products by 47%. Such increases in imports mean an increase in the tariff revenue of Belarus. It should be pointed out, however, that the model only tracks the effects of the ban on imports in the sectors of meat and dairy products. An alternative way would be to construct an econometric model that takes into account different factors influencing the trade between the countries. The effects of the decrease in the price of oil and the introduced ban on imports, which happened close in time, could then have been evaluated.

The estimated model further predicts that, because of the ban on imports, the tariff revenue collected by Russia in these two sectors has decreased by 53%. This means that since Belarus can only claim a fixed portion (4.55%) of the total tariff revenue of the EACU, its after-redistribution tariff revenue collected in the meat and dairy product sectors declined by 44.86%, in spite of its increase in before-redistribution tariff revenue by 35%. The decline in Belarus’ after-redistribution tariff revenue is thus estimated to have led to a decrease in welfare by 0.03%. To prevent such a decrease in the future, Belarus should argue for an increase in its share of the total tariff revenue of the EACU.

Furthermore, in addition to the decrease in the tariff revenue, the estimated model predicts that the real wage in Russia decreased by 0.39%, and its welfare by 0.49%.

The introduced ban on imports also affected the European countries that used to export to Russia. The model predicts that the welfare of Latvia declined by 0.38% and that the welfare of Lithuania declined by 0.27%. A substantial portion of the decline in welfare of these countries can be explained by a decrease in their terms of trade. The introduced ban on imports by Russia led to a decline in prices in the countries that exported meat and dairy products to Russia. Lower prices led to a decrease in the proceeds from exports collected by EU countries, and lower proceeds from exports buy less import, implying a decrease in their welfare.

In spite of the increase in tariffs between Russia and Ukraine, the model predicts an increase in the welfare of Ukraine by 0.23% following the formation of the EU-Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). An increase in real wages by 0.34% is the main factor contributing to this welfare increase. This is because it is associated with a redirection of Ukrainian exports from Russia towards the EU. The predicted increase in real wages in Ukraine have not materialized so far, presumably because of the ongoing military conflict and because time is needed to redirect the trade flows in response to the changes in the tariffs.

While bearing in mind that the analysis is only based on the sectors of meat and dairy products, Belarus could have increased its welfare during the trade wars if it had shifted from EACU status back to CIS FTA status with tariffs set at before-EACU levels. In this case, Belarus would not have needed to share its tariff revenue with other countries, and would then have increased its tariff revenue by 47.93% instead of the now predicted decline by 44.86%. Similarly, the welfare during trade wars could then have increased by 0.05%, instead of the now predicted decline by 0.03%. Another advantage of moving to CIS FTA status during trade wars is that the real wage could have increased by 0.04% instead of the 0.003% in the case of continued EACU status. Belarus could further have benefitted from moving to CIS FTA status by choosing optimal tariffs. This study suggests that the optimal tariffs of Belarus under CIS FTA status with trade wars are higher than the optimal tariffs under CIS FTA status without trade wars. Higher tariffs is the optimal response to the increased trade flows through Belarus resulting from trade wars.


Although it is optimal to move to CIS FTA status during trade wars, it is optimal to move back to EACU status after the trade wars are over. Therefore, such a policy should be adopted with caution, since the shift back to EACU status will likely not be possible. If it is expected that the trade wars will continue for a long period of time, or if the other members of the EACU will often deviate from the common tariffs, a transition to CIS FTA should be adopted. At the same time, asking for an increase in its share of total tariff revenue of EACU is a feasible strategy for Belarus to follow.

While estimating the effect of a transition from EACU status to CIS FTA status for Belarus during trade wars, the evaluation was done using two sectors affected by counter-sanctions. To evaluate the full welfare effect of this transition, its effect on the other sectors of Belarus should also be estimated, which is a question for the further research.

Non-Tariff Barriers and Trade Integration in the EAEU

It is a commonly held view that the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is a political enterprise (Popescu, 2014) that has little economic meaning other than redistribution of oil rents (Knobel, 2015). With a new reality of low oil prices and reduced rents, a legitimate question is how stable this Union is, or whether there is any hope for mutual economic benefits that can provide incentives to all the participants to maintain their membership in the Union? Our answer is yes, there is hope, but only if countries, especially Russia, make progress on deep integration such as services liberalization, trade facilitation, free movement of labor and especially in the reduction of the substantial non-tariff barriers (NTBs). NTBs are hampering trade both within the Union (World Bank, 2012; Vinokurov, 2015), as well as against third country imports. Our research shows (see Knobel et al., 2016) that all the EAEU members will reap benefits from a reduction of NTBs against each other, but they will obtain considerably more substantial gains from a reduction in NTBs against imports from the EU and China.

Since the early stages of creation of the Customs Union (CU) between Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia back in 2010, the economic benefits of the CU have been questionable. The main reason for this in Kazakhstan was the increase in its import tariffs in order to implement the common external tariff of the CU, which initially was Russia’s external tariff (Tarr, 2015). Kazakhstan almost doubled its average tariff from 5.3% to 9.5% (Shepoltylo, 2011; Jondosov and Sabyrova, 2011) in the first year of its CU accession. Belarus did not increase its average tariff, but the structure of its tariffs shifted toward a protection of Russian industry.

In 2015, the CU was transformed into the EAEU, and Armenia and Kyrgyz Republic have joined the EAEU. These two countries are WTO members; Kyrgyzstan entered the WTO in 1998, and Armenia in 2001. In 2014, the simple average most-favored nation (MFN) applied tariff rate in Armenia was 3.7%, and 4.6% in the Kyrgyz Republic. Due to differences between Armenia and Kyrgyzstan’s WTO commitments and the EAEU tariff schedule, the new members of the EAEU are not implementing the full EAEU tariff schedule. That is, they have numerous exemptions. However, they have started a WTO commitments modification procedure.

Despite adverse impacts from the higher import prices from implementing the common external tariff of the EAEU in Armenia and the Kyrgyz Republic, there are potentially offsetting gains. Given the importance of remittances to the Kyrgyz Republic, the benefits coming from the right of workers to freely move and legally work inside EAEU likely dominate the tariff issues. Armenia also benefits from the free movement of labor, receives Russian gas free of export duties, and wants to preserve the military guarantee granted by Russia through the six-country Collective Security Treaty Organization.

In the case of Belarus, it receives Russian oil and natural gas free of export-duties, which, when oil prices were high, tended to dominate their calculus. Kazakhstan hopes for more FDI as a platform for selling to the EAEU market; but President Nazarbaev has expressed concerns that the EAEU is not providing net benefits to his country.

To date, the members have judged participation to be in their interest, but with the plunge in the price of oil and gas, the calculus could swing against participation in the EAEU. That is why it is so important to achieve progress with deep integration in the EAEU. One of the most important areas of deep integration for the EAEU is the substantial reduction of non-tariff barriers in goods trade, both between the EAEU members and against third countries. Estimates by the Eurasian Development Bank (Vinokurov et al., 2015) reveal that NTBs account are 15% of the value of intra-union trade flows.

In our paper, Knobel et al (2016), we estimate substantial gains to all the EAEU members from a reduction of NTBs. We employ a global computable general equilibrium model with monopolistic competition in the Helpman-Krugman style based on Balisteri, Yonezawa, Tarr (2014). Estimates of the ad-valorem equivalents of NTBs were based on Vinokurov et al (2015) for the EAEU member countries and Kee, Nicita, Olarreaga (2009) for non-members.

We find that the effects of deep integration are positive for all countries of the EAEU. Armenia’s accession to the EAEU will have a strong positive effect only if coupled with a decrease of non-tariff barriers. Armenian accession is associated with an increase in external tariffs, which causes a negative economic impact and decrease in output.

The effect of deep integration in the EAEU will be even greater if any spillovers effect reducing NTBs for EAEU’s major trading partners are present. Knobel et al. (2016) simulate a 50% decrease in “technical” NTBs inside the EAEU and a 20% spillover effect of reduction NTBs toward either the EU and USA or China. Reduction of NTBs in trade with the EU and the USA dominates the comparable reduction of NTBs with China for all countries of the EAEU in terms of the welfare gain. Armenia’s welfare gain with a spillover effect towards the EU is 1.1% of real consumption compared to 1.02% with a spillover effect towards China. Growth in welfare in Belarus will be 2.7% with a EU spillover versus 2.5% with a spillover effect towards China. Kazakhstan’s gain in real consumption is also greater in the first (EU+USA) case: 0.86% versus 0.66% (with spillover towards China). Russia’s gain in real consumption in the case of a spillover effect with the EU is 2.01% versus 0.63% in the case of China.

Summing up, our findings suggest an answer to the recent concern about stability of the EAEU. We think that eliminating NTB, hampering mutual trade, and decreasing NTBs in either European or Chinese direction could provide mutual economic benefits that could tie countries of the EAEU together, thereby giving a much needed solid economic ground for the Union.


Tajikistan Joining the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan: Pros and Cons

20141124 Tajikistan Joining the Customs Union Image 01

Authors: I.A. Densiova, A.M. Malokostov, and N.A. Turdyeva, CEFIR

In this brief we summarize the results obtained in a CEFIR research project on the economic impact of Tajikistan joining the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan conducted for the Eurasian Development Bank in 2013 (EBD, 2013). We argue that integration has to be comprehensive to be mutually beneficial: indeed, trade effects are marginal, and the highest stakes are at migration regulation in the CU member-countries and the investment opportunities in Tajikistan.

Integration Formations in the Monetary Sphere: the Possibility and the Necessity for Monetary Integration in the Post-Soviet Region

20190506 Do Macroprudential Policy Instruments Image 01

This policy brief addresses the possibility of monetary integration in the post-Soviet region. It provides a short overview of the literature devoted to the formation and development of the monetary unions, and argues that, based on this literature and real-world experiences, monetary integration can be of substantial value for the CIS states. However, such monetary union is not feasible in the near future due to weak economic integration of the national economies of the CIS countries, significant difference in their development level, and imbalances in allocation of bargaining power between the states. This policy brief suggests that a first step towards monetary integration could be an adoption of a supranational unit of account on the territory of the Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

The modern world has observed formation of a number of economic and monetary integration communities. Their performance varies greatly: some of them are developing successfully, others, on the contrary, are stagnating. Questions concerning the possibility of economic and monetary integration in the post-Soviet space are constantly addressed both by policymakers and by academic economists. Taking into account theoretical concepts and international experience, this brief addresses the possibility and desirability of the integration of the monetary sphere of the post-Soviet region. Based on Luzgina (2013a,b), this brief proposes a form of representation of monetary integration on the early stages of its development. In this case, an early form of monetary integration may be achieved via adoption of a single supranational unit of account on the territory of (a subset of) countries; the national currencies would continue to coexist with the new supranational currency. This approach to integration would allow preserving the independence of economic policy for the involved member states. At the same time, countries would benefit from a reduction in transaction costs and increasing convergence of national economies.

Background: Theoretical Concepts and World Experience of Monetary Integration

Ideally, the monetary union should have the form of an optimum currency area (OCA), a territory of one-currency domination with high level of integration and unification in different economic spheres. Modern economic science provides two main approaches considering the possibility of constructing an optimal currency zone on the territory of several states. The first suggests that optimality should be determined on the basis of implementing a specific group of criteria by countries. Among the main criteria, freedom of goods movement, labor and capital, openness and diversification of the economy, the synchronization inflation rates as well as integration in the financial sector can be mentioned. The second approach is based on a comparison of the benefits and costs in terms of the monetary union formation of the country with the highest economic potential. In practice, when studying the effectiveness of monetary integration, a synthesized approach is used. It includes evaluating by criteria, as well as taking into account costs and benefits that a country accrues in case of entering a particular monetary group. The main benefits of a monetary union include a reduction of transaction costs, trade relations enlargement, improving the discipline in the monetary sphere, and a reduction of the rate of international reserve sufficiency for every country-member. At the same time, there are some negative aspects of deep integration, such as loss of monetary policy independence, economic imbalances in case of weak convergence of national economies, loss of (part of) seigniorage income, and a possible negative public reaction to the adoption of a single currency.

When discussing the concept of monetary integration, it is important to understand the distinction between a monetary union and an optimum currency area. A monetary union is one of the most developed forms of a currency area, which implies a rigid anchor of national currencies to each other with a possible further transformation into the currency of the leading country, or to a single supranational currency (as in the case of the European Union). In this case, a monetary union can be formed of asymmetrical economies. Instead, the optimum currency area requires mandatory implementation of the main convergence criteria, and thereby, more symmetry/alignment among the members. Thus, a monetary union does not necessarily have to be an optimum currency area, while the optimum currency area has every opportunity to be transformed into a full-fledged monetary union [1].

Historically, there have been several examples of monetary union formations. The Italian monetary union (1862-1905), which was formed through the merger of disparate Italian lands, is among them. We can also identify the Scandinavian Monetary Union, which united Norway, Denmark and Sweden (1875-1917). The Austro-Hungarian monetary union existed in the period from 1867 to 1914. Currently, we observe formations of monetary unions in Africa, Latin America and the Arab states.

Despite the implementation of a number of integration projects within the various groups of countries over the past century, only the European states were able to achieve the highest form of monetary integration. It took them more than 50 years to do this, and the integration processes in the economic and monetary fields are continuing with new Member States joining the European Union. However, despite the detailed development plans for the implementation of a monetary union, the Eurozone countries face a number of difficulties and obstacles on the path of economic development. European monetary integration brings not only benefits, but also some costs. For example, the loss of independence of monetary policy creates obstacles in regulations of economic processes.

This discussion suggests that an assessment of the potential formation of a monetary union – that is, of desirability, feasibility and level of monetary integration within a particular group of countries – should be based on relating theoretical concepts and features of the countries in question, as well as a in-depth research of the experience of other currency unions.

Integration Processes in the Post-Soviet Space

At the territory of the former Soviet Union, integration projects have been implemented for more than 20 years. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, such integration formations as the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Eurasian Economic Community were created. Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia have built a Customs Union (CU) and a Common Economic Space (CES). There is also a possibility of making a transition to the highest form of integration – a monetary union. However, this raises a number of questions: which CIS countries should join a monetary union, when should this be done, and what is the optimal form of monetary union for integrating countries.

Luzgina (2013b) shows that, within the framework of the CIS countries, that there are significant differences in many of the macroeconomic indicators. Countries differ in terms of GDP and the growth rates of investment and prices. For example, Belarus has the highest inflation in the post-Soviet region. The source of growth also differs: for example, a number of countries, such as Azerbaijan, Russia and Kazakhstan, owe a significant part of their economic growth to the availability of natural resources, but this is not universally true within the CIS. Dynamics of population income is also significantly different among the countries. Here, Russia occupies the leading position with its average wage at the beginning of 2012 reaching 780 USD. At the same time, in Tajikistan, the average wage amounts to only 110 USD.

Another concern is that the formation of an economic and monetary union implies free movement of labor and capital. However, at this stage of development, it can lead to some negative consequences. Free movement of labor could involve a massive flow of labor from depressed areas to regions where incomes are much higher. This may create pressure on health and social services in the latter regions. In turn, free movement of capital may cause speculative attacks on the financial markets. At the same time, the CIS countries, except Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, do not have large gold reserves. Therefore, the free movement of capital flows without additional support may cause a crisis within the national financial systems. Out of all the gold reserves of the CIS countries, more than 85% of the total volume is owned by Russia. In the case of an abolition of restrictions on capital flows, countries that are exposed to speculative attacks are likely to ask Russia for help. Such a situation would require Russia to use its own financial resources, which would create an additional pressure on its international reserves.

Table 1. International reserves in the CIS countries, (million US dollars)









































Note: The author’s own calculation based on data from the World Bank

Russia is leading among the CIS countries in terms of population and territory, with other countries lagging substantially behind. For example, Belarus owns less than 1% of the total territory of the CIS countries and less than 4% of the population.

Relying on the above quantitative indicators it is natural to expect that in case of a formation of a monetary union with a single emission center, the distribution of votes in the decision-making of the development and implementation of monetary policy is likely to be unequal. The leading role would likely belong to Russia, which has the largest economic potential. However, other countries in this case may be in a less advantageous position as Russia’s decisions may lead to undesirable consequences for the economies of other countries, given the lack of a sufficient degree of synchronization of national economic systems.

Thus, a weak degree of economic integration of the national economies of the CIS countries, different levels of development, as well as the superiority of the economic potential of Russia over the other states gives reason to argue for a non-feasibility of monetary integration within the CIS countries in the short term.

On the other hand, it may be reasonable to consider the possibility of integration in the monetary sphere on the basis of the most economically integrated countries, namely Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. These countries have created a Customs Union and are implementing a project of forming a Common Economic Space. There are plans of creating the Eurasian Economic Union. In addition, based on the experience of European countries, it might be easier to start the integration within a limited number of participants, which satisfy the required convergence criteria. Later, more countries may enter the monetary union.

Prospects for Monetary Integration of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia

Taking into account the experience of the European Union, we note the need for close trade and technological relations, as well as a market type of economy, and unification of the legislation in the economic sphere. Some of these elements of monetary integration are observed within the CU. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, economies of the former Soviet states switched to paths of market reforms. In addition, the CU countries have rather close trade relations; they have restored the old and created new means of communication. At the same time, there is a weak degree of diversification of exports and imports. A large part of export and import are represented by raw materials.

The second important point of the monetary integration is the comparability by size of the emerging economies. In the framework of the Customs Union, Russia is the only leader. Harmonization of relations between the alliance partners would be easier in the case of smaller countries coordinating their efforts, which would allow them to defend their interests along with the large member-states.

Finally, obligatory condition of monetary integration is the fulfillment of convergence indicators (certain values of macroeconomic indicators) by all association members. In Luzgina (2013b), we compare a range of such indicators, as based on the experience of the European Union. We use indicators such as the inflation rate, public debt, budget deficit, and the dynamics of exchange rates for comparison. The study reveals that the main differences lie in the monetary indicators, namely the rate of inflation and exchange rate. In addition, there are certain differences in the structure of the economy and the share of private ownership in GDP.

Figure 1. Exchange Rate (average for a year), as % of the previous year
Figure 2. Industrial Producer Price Index (average for a year), as % of the previous year
Source: Data of the Interstate Statistical Committee of the Commonwealth of the Independent State

The persistence of significant differences in the values of convergence indicators at the macro level makes a full-fledged monetary union highly unlikely in the short term, even within the framework of the three most economically integrated states. At the same time, it is appropriate to consider the option of monetary integration in its mild form, i.e. in the form of monetary integration on the basis of a single unit of account. A single unit of account is usually calculated on the basis of the basket of national currencies, and is mostly used for international payments and credits.

The attractiveness of monetary integration in the form of monetary union on the basis of a supranational unit of account is motivated; first of all, by the preservation of the economic sovereignty of all countries. Circulation of the unit of account would take place in parallel with national currencies. Member states would retain the possibility of implementation of independent monetary and fiscal policies. Furthermore, the unit of account may fulfill the role of a training tool. The supranational payment unit can be used on the national level. Using this unit of account, legal entities may carry out transactions and individuals may hold their savings. It can also be actively implemented in the inter-state calculations. A part of gold and forex reserves of member countries can be held in the supranational unit of account. Inter-state loans can be issued in this unit as well. This type of monetary union would reveal the feasibility of further deepening of integration in the monetary sphere and determine the timing of the formation of a full-fledged monetary union. In case of serious problems, the dismantling of the currency union will not cause major adverse changes in national economies, unlike in the case of a collapse of a monetary union with a single currency. In addition, the operation of a single unit of account allows for the anticipation of potential problems associated with the functioning of economies under a single monetary system, and a solution before the introduction of a supranational currency.

Last, but not least, this form of integration seems to be a relatively feasible option as the process of convergence on the territory of the CU countries in the monetary sphere has already begun. There is an increased use of national currencies in bilateral trade, harmonization of national legislation is taking place in the monetary sphere, and international agreements in the monetary sphere are ratified. These activities are gradually building a base for the realization of the monetary integration project of the union countries.


Economic and monetary integration allows the countries to get the maximum benefit from mutual cooperation. However, the deepening of the integration process is usually accompanied by certain difficulties. Convergence of economic systems requires transformation of economic institutions, changes in legislation and principles of management, all of which are costly to achieve. The better the preliminary harmonization is performed, the easier the process of adaptation of national economies to function within a particular economic and monetary union will be.

The post-Soviet countries are implementing several projects of economic integration. However, their economies have major differences according to a number of macroeconomic indicators. The greatest degree of convergence is reached only by three CIS states, namely Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan. Rather high level of economic integration, as well as a continuation of the process of unification and harmonization of national economies allows us to study the feasibility of realizing the lightweight form of a monetary integration based on a single supranational unit of account on the territories of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.


  • Butorina O.V. International currencies: integration and competition / O.V. Butorina.- Мoscow.: Publishing house  “Delovaia literatura”, 2003.- 368 p.
  • Chapligin V.G.  Theory and methodology of currency alliance  formation/ V.G. Chapligin –  St. Petersburg.: Publishing house SPbGUAF, 2003.- 193 p.
  • Drobishevski S.M., Polevoi D.E. The problems of creating a single monetary zone in the CIS countries / S.M  Drobishevski, D. I. Polevoi – Мoscow.: EAPP,- 2004. – 152 p.
  • Euro – a baby of Mandell? The theory of optimum currency areas: collection of papers: translation from English.- Мoscow.: Delo, 2002.- 368 p.
  • European monetary union: transition, international impact and policy options/ edited by Paul J.J. Welfens.- Berlin.- Springer.- 1997.-470 p.
  • Eurasian Economic Community on-line database [Electronic resource]- Moscow.- 2005.- Mode of access: www.evrazes.com.- Date of access: 17.02.2012
  • Evstigneev V.R. Currency and finance integration in EU and CIS. Comparative semantic analysis. /V.R. Evstigneev -М.: Наука.- 1997.—271 p.
  • International monetary fund on-line database [Electronic resource] – Washington.- Mode of access: www.imf.org.- Date of access: 07.11.2012
  • Kondratov D.I. Finantial integration: international experience and perspectives of CIS countries development/D.I. Kondratov// Economic Journal of HSE.- 2012.- №1.- p. 105-142.
  • Luzgina A.N. Prospects of economic and monetary integration of the CIS member states/ A.N. Luzgina // Bank Bulletin Magazine. – 2013a.-№ 19 (600).- p. 21-26.
  • Luzgina A.N.  Model of monetary integration involving the Republic of Belarus / A.N. Luzgina // Bank Bulletin Magazine. – 2013b.-№ 20 (601).- p. 39-46.
  • Mandell R. A theory of optimum currency areas/  R. Mundell// Interntional economics [Electronic resource].- New York: Macmillan.- 1968.- Mode of access: http://www.columbia.edu/~ram15/ie/ie-12.html.  – Date of access: 23.05.2013.
  • Monetary unions: theory, history, public choice/ edited by Forrest H. Capie and Geoffrey E. Wood.- London: Routledge, 2003.- 198 p.
  • Statistical Committee of CIS on-line database [Electronic resource] – Мoscow, 2013.- Mode of access: www.cisstat.com.- Date of access: 03.09.2012
  • Struk T.  Concepts of reforming the world currency system/ Т. Struk// Bank Bulletin Magazine- 2012.-№16 [561].- p.7-14.
  • World Bank on-line database [Electronic resource].- 2013.- Mode of access: http://worldbank.org.- Date of access: 27.06.2013

[1] Chapligin V.G.  Theory and methodology of currency alliance formation/ V.G. Chapligin –  St. Petersburg.: Publishing house SPbGUAF, 2003.- 193 p.

The Customs Union Between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan: Some Evidence from the New Tariff Rates and Trade Flows

20131007 The Customs Union Between Russia Image 02

Author: Arevik Mkrtchyan, European University Institute.

This brief addresses the Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan that was established in 2010. It argues that the external tariff schedule reflects a compromise between the interests of its members rather than simple expansion of Russian influence on the CU partners, and that the reduction in trade costs due to elimination of internal borders, benefits both the members of the CU and their external trade partners. Moreover, the impact of alleviated non-tariff trade costs on trade flows is strong and significant, while the tariff impact is insignificant for all members.

Trade Policy Uncertainty and External Trade: Potential Gains of Ukraine Joining the CU vs. the Signing Free Trade Agreement with the EU

20191231 Default Image 04

This policy brief summarizes the results of recent research which predicts gains in Ukrainian exports from signing a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with EU, and compares these gains with predicted gains from joining the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia. We argue that the gains would be mostly due to elimination of uncertainty in trade policy of Ukraine with the CU and the EU countries. We find that European integration brings higher potential for export growth, and that it also shifts the structure of Ukrainian exports towards capital goods, reducing the share of raw materials in total export.

Trade Policy Uncertainty and Export

Trade policy uncertainty (TPU) is a powerful negative factor that prevents economy from the realization of its export potential. In a recent paper, Handley and Limao (2012) argue that since the exporting decision involves substantial fixed costs, TPU significantly affects investment and entry decisions in international trade. In particular, they show that preferential trade agreements (PTAs) are important even when the pre-PTA tariff barriers are low. Comparing pre- and post-EU accession patterns of Portuguese exports, they find that Portuguese trade increased dramatically after 1985. The increase was the largest towards the EU partners, suggesting that it was caused by the accession. Export expanded through considerable entry of Portuguese firms into EU markets, even in industries where applied tariffs did not change. Handley and Limao estimated that the tariff reduction, which averaged 0.66 percentage points, has been responsible for only 20 percent of the increase in exports to EU10 after the EU accession, while 80 percent of the increase was due to resolving TPU.

Handley and Limao further argue that the Portuguese example should be highly relevant for any small open economy, facing important trade policy choices. In this regard, Ukraine is facing a very hard choice of selecting its regional integration strategy – towards the EU or the Customs Union (CU) with Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, resulting in severe TPU. The options are mutually exclusive since the CU trade policy is not compatible with neither the WTO commitments of Ukraine, or with the parameters of the deep and comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) between Ukraine and the EU, finalized in 2012. Average tariff protection within the CU in 2012 was 10 percent (Shepotylo and Tarr, 2012), while the average WTO binding tariff rates in Ukraine were only 5 percent; the parameters of the FTA with the EU are even less protective, which would cause even stronger disagreements regarding the tariff schedules. Moreover, technical and phyto-sanitary standards in the EU and the CU are different; therefore, it would be extremely hard to harmonize the Ukrainian standards with both of them.

Despite low tariff protection, uncertainty on the parameters of the long run trade policy of Ukraine with the CU and EU countries is extremely high. It is crucial for both foreign and domestic investors to understand in what direction the regional integration will proceed before making decisions on investing or exporting, since these decisions can incur substantial sunk costs. Suppose that a large European multinational firm were interested in including Ukrainian companies in its production chains only if Ukraine signs the FTA with the EU (integrate vertically). If Ukraine instead joined the CU, this presumed European company would rather be interested in horizontal integration and invest by building a plant for final assembly of products to serve the Ukrainian and CIS markets. For Russian companies the situation would be the reversed. They would be interested to integrate vertically if Ukraine is a member of the CU and integrate horizontally if Ukraine signed FTA with EU. However, since vertical and horizontal integration are quite different strategies, neither European nor Russian companies invest in Ukraine before the uncertainty is resolved. The same holds true for domestic companies which would like to extend their export activities to new markets. Since entrance to new markets is costly and requires some irreversible investment, it is optimal to wait until the policy uncertainty is resolved.

Modeling Trade Policy Options of Ukraine

In Shepotylo (2013), we investigate which integration scenario is more preferable for Ukraine under the assumption that TPU is fully resolved and Ukraine trades up to its potential. Based on export data in 2001-2011, we estimate the gravity model by Helpman, Melitz, and Rubinstein (2008) method, adjusted for panel data case and endogeneity of a decision to sign a PTA. Using this model, we predict bilateral exports of Ukraine under three counterfactual scenarios: a) Ukraine joined the Customs Union in 2009 (CU); b) Ukraine signed the FTA with the EU in 2009 (EU FTA); c) Ukraine joined the EU in 2009 (EU). The model predictions take into account the level of economic development, geographical location, industrial structure, and quality of government and regulatory agencies. It also accounts for macro trends, including the global trade collapse of 2008-2009.

The results are not intended for a short-term forecast, but should be rather used as indicators of the long-run effects. Their interpretation is as follows. Suppose that Ukraine has signed the FTA with the EU in 2009. Taking into account all observable characteristics of Ukraine, what would be the level of Ukrainian export of product k to country j, if Ukraine, in all other respects, would behave as a typical country-member of the FTA EU? That would involve removal of the trade policy uncertainty, stronger integration of domestic companies into the global supply chains, and increase in foreign direct investments from the EU countries.

Unlike the studies based on the Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) method, which assumes that the policy choice affects the economy only marginally through reduced tariff barriers, and that the underlying economic structure and expectations of the economic agents remain intact, the gravity model captures all changes that occur in the economy over the investigated period and extract the differences in export flows between any two counterfactual scenarios, given all background economic changes.


Our main results are as follows. First, the actual exports of Ukraine are far below their potential, compared with performance of both the CU countries and the FTA EU countries. The expected long run gains in Ukrainian exports to all countries under the CU scenario are equal to 17.9 percent above the export level in 2009-2011. The corresponding number for the FTA EU scenario is 36 percent, and for the full EU scenario, 46.1 percent. Based on 2011, the export of Ukraine would have been 98 billion US dollars under the EU scenario, 91 billion US dollars under the FTA EU scenario, and 72 billion US dollars under the CU scenario. All these numbers should be compared with the actual 68 billion US dollars of Ukrainian export in 2011.

Figure 1. Ukrainian Export under the Different Scenarios

Second, any scenario predicts that Ukraine severely underperforms in its trade with both CIS and EU countries, while its export to the rest of the world is in line with the predictions of the model. These results are consistent with the theory that unresolved TPU in relationships with the CIS and EU countries severely hurts the Ukrainian export potential to these countries.

Table 1. Ukrainian Export under the Different Scenarios
Note: CIS – Commonwealth of Independent States; EU12 – countries that joined EU after 2003; EU15 – countries that joined EU before 2004; RoW – rest of the World

Third, CU integration would be more beneficial for the Ukrainian agriculture and food industry, while FTA EU or full EU integration would be more beneficial for textiles, metals, machinery and electrical goods, and transportation. Conditional on not worsening its market access to Russia, Ukraine would expand its trade in these sectors to all countries, including Russia and other members of CU.

Figure 2. Expected Increase of Ukrainian Export under the Different Scenarios


Finally, the CU integration would lead to a small increase in the share of capital goods from 17 percent to 20 percent of total exports. FTA EU would increase the share of capital goods to 28 percent, while full EU integration would increase it to 29 percent. In all scenarios, the share of raw materials would decline from 16 percent to 10-12 percent. The share of intermediate goods would decline from 48 percent to around 40 percent under the two EU scenarios and would only marginally decrease under the CU scenario. The share of consumer goods would remain stable around 20 percent.


Ukraine would be better off by signing a deep and comprehensive trade agreement with the EU and integrate into its production chains than joining the CU. Right now, Ukraine severely underperforms by exporting far below its potential. Evidence shows that high trade policy uncertainty plays a large role in Ukraine’s poor performance, since the gap between actual and potential exports are mainly due to low levels of export to the EU and CIS countries. Moreover, Ukraine should be interested in moving the integration process even further, because EU accession would bring even better results.


  • Handley, K., & Limão, N. (2012). Trade and investment under policy uncertainty: theory and firm evidence (No. w17790). National Bureau of Economic Research.
  • Helpman, E., Melitz, M., & Rubinstein, Y. (2008). Estimating trade flows: Trading partners and trading volumes. The Quarterly Journal of Economics,123(2), 441-487.
  • Shepotylo, O., & Tarr, D. (2012). Impact of WTO accession and the customs union on the bound and applied tariff rates of the Russian federation. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, (6161).



The Eurasian Customs Union among Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan: Can It Succeed Where Its Predecessor Failed?

20171214 Academic conference

In 2010, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan formed the Eurasian Customs Union and imposed the Russian tariff as the common external tariff of the Customs Union. This resulted in almost doubling the external average tariff of the more liberal Kazakhstan. Russia has benefited from additional exports to Kazakhstan under the protection of the higher tariffs in Kazakhstan. However, estimates reveal that the tariff changes have resulted in substantial transfers from Kazakhstan to Russia since importers in Kazakhstan now purchase lower quality or higher priced Russian imports which are protected under the tariff umbrella of the common external tariff. Transfers from the Central Asian countries to Russia were the reason the Eurasian Economic Community (known as EurAsEC) failed, so this bodes badly for the ultimate success of the Eurasian Customs Union. What is different, however, is that the Eurasian Customs Union and its associated Common Economic Space aim to reduce non-tariff barriers and improve trade facilitation, and also to allow the free movement of capital and labor, liberalize services, and harmonize some regulations. Estimates by my colleagues and I show that if substantial progress could be made in trade facilitation and reducing non-tariff barriers, this could make the Customs Union positive for Kazakhstan and other potential Central Asian members. Unfortunately, so far the Customs Union has made these matters worse. On the other hand, Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization will eventually substantially reduce the transfers from Kazakhstan to Russia, but this will need a strong political commitment from Russia which we have not yet seen. If that Russian political leadership is forthcoming, the Eurasian Customs Union could nonetheless succeed where its predecessor has failed.

In January 2010, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan formed the Eurasian Customs Union. Two years later, the three countries agreed to even closer economic ties, by signing the agreement to form a “common economic space.”  Regarding tariffs, the key change was that the three countries agreed to apply the tariff schedule of the Customs Union as their common external tariff for third countries. With few exceptions, the initial common external tariff schedule was the Russian tariff schedule. Kazakhstan negotiated exceptions from the common external tariffs for slightly more than 400 tariff lines, but was scheduled to phase out the exceptions over a period of five years (World Bank, 2012). In addition, the members agreed to have the Customs Union determine the rules regarding sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards (SPS) and standards on good. Fearing transshipment of goods from China through Kazakhstan and from the European Union through Belarus, Russia negotiated and achieved agreement on stricter controls on the origin of imports from countries outside of the Customs Union. The common economic space (CES) stipulates that, in principle, there will be free movement of labor and capital among the countries, there will be liberalization of services on the CES and coordination of some regulatory policies such as competition policy.

In February 2012, the Eurasian Economic Commission began functioning. It is intended to act as the regulatory authority for the Customs Union in a manner similar to the European Commission for the European Union.

The Economics of Tariff Changes — Gains for Russia and Losses for Kazakhstan

Some proponents of the Eurasian Customs Union have argued that as a result of the Customs Union firms in the three countries will have improved market access through having tariff free access to the markets in all three countries. Prior to 2010, however, along with other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the three countries had agreements in place that stipulated free trade in goods among them. Thus, the Customs Union could not provide improved market access due to reducing tariffs on goods circulating among the three countries.

Since the common external tariff was essentially the Russian tariff, there was little change in incentives regarding tariffs in Russia. The big change occurred in Kazakhstan, who had a much lower tariff structure than Russia prior to implementing the Customs Union tariff. Despite the exemptions, Kazakhstan almost doubled its tariffs in the first year of the Customs Union (see World Bank, 2012). The increase in tariffs on many items which were not produced in Kazakhstan but produced in Russia, led to a substantial increase in imports from Russia and displacement of imports from Europe. Many of Russia’s manufacturing firms, which were not competitive in Kazakhstan prior to the Customs Union, were now able to expand sales to the Kazakhstani market. This represents gains for Russian industry.  Given the deeper manufacturing base in Russia compared with most of the CIS countries and the resulting uneven benefits of the common external tariff in favor of Russia, acceptance of the common external tariff has been a fundamental negotiating position of Russia regarding acceptance of members in the Customs Union.

Some cite the expanded Russian exports in Kazakhstan as evidence of success of the Customs Union. But the displacement of European imports, to higher priced or lower quality imports from Russia, represents a substantial transfer of income from Kazakhstan to Russia and is an example of what economists call “trade diversion”. Moreover, it is the reason the World Bank (2012) has evaluated the tariff changes of the Customs Union as a loss of real income for Kazakhstan.

Furthermore, the three countries together (and even a broader collection of CIS countries) constitute too small a market to erect tariff walls against external competition. They would lose the benefits of importing technology from advanced countries and would rely on high priced production from within the Customs Union. Some would argue that there are political benefits of trade to be taken into account, but experience has shown that when a customs union is inefficient and the benefits and the costs of the customs union are very unequal, the customs union can inflame conflicts (see Schiff and Winters, 2003, 194-195).

Non-Tariff Barriers — Extremely Costly Methods of Regulating Standards Worsened by the Customs Union

Non-tariff barriers, in the form of sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) conditions on food and agricultural products and technical barriers to trade (TBTs) on goods, are a very significant problem of the Customs Union. There are standards based trade disputes between Belarus and Russia on several products, including milk, meat, buses, pipes and beer (see Petrovskaya, 2012). Anecdotal evidence indicates that Kazakhstani exporters complain bitterly regarding the use by the Russian authorities of SPS and TBTs measures, either to extract payments or for protection.

If the Customs Union could make substantial progress on reducing these barriers, it would be a significant accomplishment. My colleagues and I have estimated that progress on the non-tariff barriers and trade facilitation could outweigh the negative impact of the tariff changes for Kazakhstan (see World Bank, 2012). Unfortunately, so far the Customs Union has taken a step backward on both non-tariff barriers and trade facilitation.

A big problem in reducing standards as a non-tariff barrier is that standards regulation, in all three countries, is still primarily based on the Soviet system. As a holdover from the Soviet era, mandatory technical regulations are employed where market economies allow voluntary standards to apply. This regulatory system makes innovation and adaption to the needs of the market very costly as firms must negotiate with regulators when they want to change a product or how it is produced. Legislation in both Russia and Kazakhstan calls for conversion to a system of voluntary standards, but this is happening too slowly in all three countries. The problem is that the Customs Union has worsened the situation. Technical regulations are now decided at the level of the Customs Union, so firms that previously negotiated with their national standards authority, have had to now get agreement from the Customs Union. This has reportedly caused further delays, impeding innovation and the ability of firms to meet the demands of the market.

A second problem with efforts to reduce the non-tariff barriers is that the Customs Union is trying to harmonize standards of the three countries by producing mandatory technical regulations.  The alternative is to use Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs). Experience has shown that no customs union has been able to broadly harmonize standards based on mandatory technical regulations, with the exception of the European Union. In fact, even in the European Union, they have had to use MRAs and only harmonized technical regulations after decades of work. While each member of the Customs Union is expected to create a system of mutual recognition of certificates of conformity, these certificates are not presently recognized in the other countries of the Customs Union. There is little hope for a significant reduction in standards of non-tariff barriers unless the system of mutual recognition is more widely recognized and adopted.

Trade Facilitation —Participation in International Production Chains Made More Difficult by the Customs Union

Customs posts between the member countries have been removed and this has reduced trade costs for both exporters and importers in the three countries. Russia’s concerns regarding transshipment have, however, led to an opposite impact on trade with third countries, i.e., the costs of trading with countries outside the Customs Union have increased. Participation in international production chains has become a key feature of modern international production and trade. If goods cannot move easily in and out of the country, multinational firms will look to other countries to make their foreign direct investment and for international production sharing. Addressing this significant problem will take a change of emphasis on the part of Russia.

Russian WTO Accession —Liberalization That Will Significantly Reduce Transfers to Russia

It has apparently been agreed by the Customs Union members that the common external tariff of the Customs Union will change to accommodate Russia’s WTO commitments. As a result, the applied un-weighted average tariff will fall in stages from 10.9 percent in 2012 to 7.9 percent by the year 2020 (see Shepotylo and Tarr, forthcoming).[1]  This will have the effect of lowering the trade diversion costs of Kazakhstan. In addition, the Customs Union will be expected to adapt its rules on standards to conform to commitments Russia made as part of its WTO accession commitments. In the case of Belarus, it remains to be seen if it will implement the changes, as this will increase competition for its industries.

Conclusion — the Need to Russia to Exercise Political Leadership for Standards and Trade Facilitation Reform for Success of the Customs Union

In 1996, the same three countries formed a customs union. Later the same year, they were joined by Kyrgyzstan, then by Tajikistan and in 2005 by Uzbekistan. As Michalopoulos and I (1997) anticipated, the earlier Customs Union failed because it imposed large costs on the Central Asian countries, which had to buy either lower quality (including lower tech goods) or higher priced Russian manufactured goods under the tariff umbrella. The present Customs Union also started with the Russian tariff, which protects Russian industry and suffers from the same problem that led to the failure of the earlier Customs Union. Nonetheless, the present Customs Union could succeed. Crucially, due to Russia’s accession to the WTO, the tariff of the Customs Union will fall by about 40 to 50 percent.[2]  This will make the Customs Union a more open Customs Union, very significantly reduce the transfers from Kazakhstan to Russia, and thereby reduce the pressures from producers and consumers in Kazakhstan on their government to depart from enforcement of the tariffs of the Customs Union.  Further, the present Customs Union aims to reduce non-tariff barriers and improve trade facilitation, as well as it has “deep integration” on its agenda, i.e., services liberalization, the free movement of labor and capital and some regulatory harmonization. Although, to date, the Customs Union has moved backwards on non-tariff barriers and trade facilitation, one could optimistically hope for substantial progress. In the important area of non-tariff barriers, given the common history of Soviet mandatory standards, Russia will have to take the lead in moving the Customs Union toward a system of voluntary standards where no health and safety issue are involved, and toward a system of mutual recognition agreements and away from commonly negotiated technical regulations. On trade facilitation, Russia will have to reverse its pressure and find a way to allow the freer movement of goods with third countries while addressing its transshipment concerns.


  • Michalopoulos, Constantine and David G. Tarr (1997), “The Economics of Customs Unions in the Commonwealth of Independent States,” Post-Soviet Geography and Economics, Vol. 38, No. 3, 125-143.
  • Petrovskaya, Galina (2012), “Belarus, Rossia, Ukraina. Obrechennye na torgovye konflikty” (Belarus, Russia, Ukraine. Doomed for trade conflicts), Deutsche Welle, June 14. www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,16023176,00.html.
  • Schiff, Maurice and L. Alan Winters (2003), Regional Integration and Development, Washington DC: World Bank and Oxford University Press.
  • Shepotylo, Oleksandr, and David G. Tarr (2008), “Specific tariffs, tariff simplification and the structure of import tariffs in Russia: 2001–2005,” Eastern European Economics, 46(5):49–58.
  • Shepotylo, Oleksandr, and David G. Tarr (forthcoming), “Impact of WTO Accession on the Bound and Applied Tariff Rates of Russia,” Eastern European Economics.
  • Shymulo-Tapiola, Olga (2012), “The Eurasian Customs Union: Friend or Foe of the EU?”  The Carnegie Papers, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October. Available at: www.CarnegieEurope.eu,
  • World Bank (2012), Assessment of Costs and Benefits of the Customs Union for Kazakhstan, Report Number 65977-KZ, Washington DC, January 3, 2012. Available at: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2012/01/15647043/assessment-costs-benefits-customs-union-kazakhstan

[1] The final “bound rate” of Russia is higher at 8.6 percent on an un-weighted average basis; but there are about 1,500 tariff lines where the applied rate of Russia is below the bound rate.   The applied weighted average tariff will fall from 9.3 percent in 2012 to 5.8 percent in 2020.

[2] Russian tariffs fall more on an un-weighted average basis than they do on a weighted average basis. See Shepotylo and Tarr (forthcoming).

Between East and West: Regional Trade Policy for Ukraine

Policy Brief Building in Kyiv, Ukraine and Globe

Given Ukraine’s geographical location between Europe and Russia, the country often has to make difficult choices in its foreign policy. Trade policy is not an exception. In particular, Ukraine is currently negotiating a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, which is fostering hopes of joining it in the near future. However, at the same time, Russia is ‘inviting’ Ukraine to join the Customs Union it has created together with two other former Soviet Republics; Belarus and Kazakhstan. Since Ukraine cannot be part of both regional agreements simultaneously, it will again have to choose between the EU and Russia.

Over the last decade, the European Union has become the most important trading partner of Ukraine. The share of Ukraine’s exports of goods to the EU is now around 25-30 percent, while its share in Ukraine’s exports of services has increased twofold from 17 percent in 1994 to 34 percent in 2008. The share of Ukraine’s imports from the EU is even larger: around 35 percent in goods and more than 50 percent in services. This growth in trade shares has occurred despite the fact that there are still substantial barriers, both tariff and non-tariff, to free trade between Ukraine and the EU. The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which Ukraine and the EU are currently negotiating is intended to remove many of these barriers.

The EU-Ukraine FTA is part of the so-called New Enhanced Agreement between the EU and Ukraine and consists of a set of provisions stipulating the liberalization of trade in goods and services, capital movement and payments, and government procurement.

A big part of the agreement is devoted to the trade in goods. This is perhaps not surprisingly so given that trade in goods accounts for 80 percent of their total bilateral trade in goods and services. Tariffs that Ukraine currently applies to the EU non-agricultural imports vary from 0 to around 20 percent. Under the new agreement, the tariffs on many of these goods will be reduced.

Apart from tariffs, the agreement stipulates an elimination of many non-tariff barriers to trade. This will be achieved by harmonization and simplification of the procedures related to customs and licensing, capital movement, government procurement, and intellectual property rights (IPR) protection, as well as competition policy, energy security and others. Ukrainian legislation must be standardized to conform to the respective European laws, with some procedures becoming more transparent (tenders), while others becoming more stringent (IPR). For example, Ukrainian producers will have to abide by the legislation on trademarks and geographical names. According to the Ukrainian deputy minister of Economy, the EU has offered a grace period of 5-10 years to Ukrainian producers to re-brand their products.

The FTA negotiation process between the EU and Ukraine started on February 18, 2008. Since then, more than fifteen rounds have taken place. Initially, there were hopes that the agreement would be signed before the end of 2010. However, in the fall of 2010, it became clear that this was not going to happen. Currently, the more pessimistic experts expect the agreement to be signed only in 2013.

In parallel with the EU integration processes, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan have created a customs union and are actively trying to involve Ukraine in their union. On the one hand, the Customs Union is attractive for Ukraine since it offers free trade with Russia, which is still one of Ukraine’s biggest trading partners, both in terms of imports and exports.

This union promises access to cheaper energy resources, which would be beneficial for Ukraine given its high energy dependence, especially in the exporting sectors like metals and chemicals. However, joining this Customs Union would jeopardize the FTA negotiations with the EU and would even endanger the WTO membership of Ukraine.

So far, the Ukrainian government has not taken a clear stance on whether Ukraine is going to become a full member of the Customs Union. Instead, it has cautiously offered a “3+1” arrangement.

In the light of the above discussion, the natural question to ask is then: what integration strategy would Ukraine benefit the most from?

Regional Trade Agreements

The idea that regional trade agreements (RTA) are beneficial to a country is best supported by the fact that such agreements have become increasingly popular over the last twenty years. As of July 31, 2010, there were around 400 RTAs reported to the WTO with 193 being in force. According to the World Bank, on average, a WTO member has regional agreements with more than 15 partner countries. RTAs exist predominantly as free trade agreements (FTA) and customs unions (CU). The former removes barriers to trade in goods and services among member countries but allows individual members to set their own tariffs against third parties. The latter type is a stricter arrangement since customs unions act as a single agent in the world markets and have a unified external tariff regime.

The analysis of RTAs and customs unions in particular, dates back to Viner in 1950 who introduced the terms trade creation versus trade diversion. Trade creation refers to a situation where member countries begin to trade goods and services with each other after the creation of an RTA, whereas previously they produced them domestically. Trade diversion, on the other hand, occurs when member countries shift their imports from outside partners to inside partners. Obviously, while trade creation is viewed as a good consequence of a RTA, trade diversion is undesirable. This, since the lower tariffs, make member countries shift away from the most efficient outside producer to an RTA partner.

There are two approaches in the literature to evaluate the impact of the RTAs: gravity models and general equilibrium (GE) models. Gravity models are estimated on the actual trade data while GE models are used for simulations. The typical findings on the effect of RTA’s are that: (a) excluded countries almost always lose, (b) there is a trade creation effect but it is rather small, and (c) the effect of the RTAs differs across their members, in particular, smaller countries tend to experience a larger increase in their exports (World Bank, 2005; Berthelon, 2004).

In addition, the so-called South-North RTAs (agreements between developed and developing countries), are found to be more beneficial for the latter than South-South agreements. Finally, the literature shows that on average FTAs are associated with lower levels of tariffs compared to customs unions.

Ukraine’s Choice of Trade Policy

The above presented empirical findings on existing RTAs, can offer guidance in which of the regional agreements Ukraine would benefit the most from. First, on the one hand, both of the FTA with the EU and the Customs Union with Russia are likely to lead to higher trade volumes (trade creation). On the other hand, the FTA with the EU can be regarded as a South-North agreement and could, therefore, be expected to have larger benefits for Ukraine than the Customs Union with Russia. Another argument in favor of the EU-FTA, is that Ukraine’s other trading partners are likely to face higher tariffs if Ukraine became a member of the Customs Union, than if she signed an FTA with the EU.

A recent study by Shepotylo (2010) addresses this issue and can be used as a benchmark for the analysis. Shepotylo uses a gravity model to compare potential export gains from deeper integration with the CIS countries to those from integration with the EU. Shepotylo’s analysis evaluates whether integration would be trade creating or not, leaving aside the issue of trade diversion.

Based on past experiences of Eastern European and CIS countries, Shepotylo builds two thought experiments. The first one is based on the scenario in which Ukraine would have become more deeply integrated into the CIS structure. That is, the experiment allows us to see what would have happened to Ukrainian foreign trade over the period 2004-2007 if Ukraine had developed closer ties with the CIS countries. The second experiment envisages what would have happened if Ukraine would have joined the EU in 2004.

According to the results, Ukraine would have benefited under both integration scenarios relative to the current situation of no integration. However, the benefits would have been twice as high under the EU integration strategy. Shepotylo’s results suggest that the EU integration could have increased Ukrainian exports in 2004-2007 by 10 percent, while the deeper CIS integration would only have increased exports by about 4 percent.

The highest expected benefits of Ukraine’s integration into the EU would have come from a substantial increase in export of various types of machinery and equipment, road vehicles and transport equipment, as well as apparel and closing accessories. These gains would have been virtually uniformly positive and economically large across all groups of countries regardless of the membership in EU. For example, export of road vehicles to the CIS countries would have been 88 percent higher under the EU integration scenario than under the CIS integration scenario, while their exports to the Western Europe would have been 82 percent higher. The export of raw materials, on the other hand, would have either declined (nonferrous metals), or remained relatively stable (iron and steel).

More importantly, gains under the EU scenario would also have come from a more diversified trade structure. A higher export diversification would be achieved because of the rapid expansion of manufactured exports, the share of which in total export would have been 26 percent under the EU scenario and only 16 percent under the CIS scenario.

In our view, diversification of trade flows is very important since a more diversified export structure with a high share of manufactured products can better protect a country from negative terms-of-trade shocks. For example, export diversification reduces the effect of idiosyncratic shocks. This was found by Koren and Tenreyro (2007). According to their findings, low-income countries which specialize in fewer and more volatile sectors, experience higher aggregate volatility in terms of GDP growth rates and trade volumes, etc. Another reason to why a more diversified trade flow (i.e. moving away from exports of primary goods to exports of manufactured products) is desirable, is the general trend of declining prices of primary commodities relative to the prices of manufactured goods. Also, a diversified export structure with a higher share of technologically advanced products has been found to be conducive for higher economic growth (Hausmann et al., 2007).


The above analysis suggests that signing a deep FTA with the EU would benefit Ukraine the most. This, given that it is likely to lead to a substantial increase in total exports and a favorable change in export composition towards a more diversified structure with a higher share of technologically advanced goods. These developments could in turn lower macroeconomic volatility and boost economic growth. Also, the EU integration scenario considered by Shepotylo (2010) did not allow for a substantial liberalization of trade in agriculture – an area where the large EU market is most protected. If the Ukrainian government manages to negotiate more open trade in agriculture, Ukraine may potentially gain much more than predicted in Shepotylo’s experiment.

On the other hand, joining the Customs Union with Russia would enhance the trade with its members and secure a lower price for energy resources. However, the benefits are likely to be outweighed by the potential losses of other markets and complications with the WTO due to the increased level of protectionism – an inevitable consequence of joining the Customs Union. In addition, the Ukrainian trade structure would become even more concentrated and skewed towards primary commodities, making the country even more vulnerable to shocks and slowing down its economic development.

Recommended Further Reading

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.