President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Belyaninov, we have entered a new era. I do not know if you have felt this or not. I am referring to the creation of the Customs Union with our partners, Kazakhstan and Belarus.
Of course, speaking frankly, this is a far from straightforward task. The main international documents have been approved and I have signed them as head of state. But although these documents have taken effect, we still need to work on the Customs Union’s main framework and learn how to apply the unified customs rules – the Customs Code.
What are you doing to prepare for this? What have you done so far, and what are the problems that you think still lie ahead?
Director of the Federal Customs Service andrei Belyaninov: Mr President, you could say we have probably been in the vanguard when it comes to work on establishing the Customs Union. The member countries’ customs services were the first to start working on a new regulatory base, and we were directly involved in work on the documents that were signed on November 27, 2009, I mean a unified Customs Code and common customs tariffs. All this has been done with our direct involvement. A lot of work obviously went into preparing these documents. We had not had to work at such a pace before, but the deadlines were tight and the work very important in nature. Now we see that there are still a large number of issues remaining to be settled, but the timetable we have agreed on – until July 1, 2010 – makes it possible for us to settle all of these outstanding matters regarding improvements, enhancement and simplification (with simplification being most important, of course) of customs procedures, as part of our routine work.
There are still some serious matters to sort out, such as the three customs services’ common information space. We are 99 percent in coordination with our Belarusian colleagues now, working with them online, and our computing centres are operating as they should be now. There are still some problems with our Kazakhstani colleagues, but we think these are technical issues that we expect to settle over the next few weeks and months.
We have not yet seen officially approved decisions on how customs duties will be divided between the three parties to the Customs Union. In this context, a lot depends too on the presence of customs officers on the Customs Union’s external borders, on how many Russian Customs Services representatives will be present in customs clearance centres on the union’s borders, and in what capacity they will be there. These are matters we need to sort out as soon as possible, matters for which we need to put in place the appropriate technology.
The almost 15 years of positive experience gained through the Customs Committee board of the Russian-Belarusian Union State gives us the base we need for synchronising and facilitating our work. We are examining all of the procedural issues and have learned how to make timely responses to situations so as to settle any important questions that arise as rapidly as possible. Our Kazakhstani colleagues attended the last few board meetings in 2009. We think that establishing a working body such as a Customs Union board, in which the three parties’ customs services would work together, would enable us to speed up the decision-making process and be closer to each other. This is an idea we want to get across today, and the heads of the customs services in all three countries support it, because we have learned to understand each other at the technical and executive levels.
We have been following events in Ukraine these last days. We hope that change in the political climate there might create opportunities for closer ties with our Ukrainian colleagues. To give them their due, they were among the first to initiate this integration process and the idea of a Customs Union. We have maintained working contacts with our Ukrainian colleagues throughout these years, but we would like to work more closely with them, because we have a very high level of trade between our countries. We are ready, willing and able to work together.
Dmitry Medvedev: It is my sincere hope too that the new Ukrainian leadership, the newly elected president of Ukraine, Mr Yanukovych, will make an effort to help strengthen relations, trade and economic ties in general, not just with Russia but with other countries too. I think this would be entirely in the interests of Ukrainian companies and consumers. This work had indeed already started, and if you can continue it, with the requisite political will from the Ukrainian leadership, of course, this would be a good thing.
As for preparations in general for getting the Customs Union actually up and running, this requires intensive and rapid work. You were right to note that we have set a very rapid pace. On the one hand, we have to be careful to avoid problems arising from being too hasty in introducing the common customs regulations. These kinds of problems are possible, unfortunately, including at times for our companies too, companies importing goods. In this respect we need to act swiftly to settle any issues. This concerns not just the Customs Service, of course. This concerns decisions in general in this area, the decisions that the Government and the individual ministries responsible for import policy need to make.
At the same time, we realise that giving the Customs Union real substance through these decisions, and your coordinated work with your colleagues from the Belarusian and Kazakhstani customs services, and, I hope, eventually with your Ukrainian colleagues too, will create new and far more comfortable conditions for conducting business, movement of goods, performing work and providing services. We therefore need to analyse all of these issues very thoroughly and make rapid decisions where needed. If this requires intervention at presidential level, or approval of this or that decision at intergovernmental level, I would like you to inform me of this personally, and I will discuss these matters with my partners.
Andrei Belyaninov: Yes, Mr President.