Tag: Kazakhstan

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.


Expected Effects of Tobacco Taxation in Five Countries of the Former Soviet Union


Authors: Irina Denisova and Polina Kuznetsova, CEFIR.

In this policy brief, we discuss the results from a study of different dimensions of tobacco taxation policy in five former Soviet Union countries: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Russia and Ukraine. We find that the increase in budget revenue from raising excises on filter cigarettes is high in all studied countries. Furthermore, due to a low elasticity of the demand for cigarettes, the increase in excise taxes needs to be substantial to lead to a noticeable improvement in public health.  

The Application of Composite Leading Indicators on the Single Economic Space Economies

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This brief is based on a CEFIR research project aimed at the short-term forecasting of socio-economic development of the member-countries of the Single Economic Space (SES), conducted for the Eurasian Economic Commission in 2013. This project focused on compiling composite leading indicators that could allow policymakers to identify phases of a business cycle and to forecast its turning points. We suggest a methodology for the selection of components of the Composite Leading Indicators (CLIs) for industrial production, and apply this methodology to predict industrial production in SES member states. Our methodology performs well for Russia and Kazakhstan, and slightly less so for Belarus.

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

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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

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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.


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[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

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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.

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

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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).