There is a fierce debate
in Kyrgyzstan about the merits of the country joining a customs union with Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia, but for merchants at two of Kyrgyzstan's biggest bazaars the answer would be "yes" and the sooner the better.
Sales at the Dordoy Bazaar in Bishkek and the Kara Suu Bazaar near Osh are down -- way down.
The reason is some 75 percent of the goods sold at the Dordoy Bazaar and some 85 percent of the goods sold at the Kara Suu Bazaar come from China and the two bazaars' main customer, Kazakhstan, is a member of the customs union, which has strict rules on the reexport of goods.
The chairwoman of the Dordoy trade complex, Damira Doolotalieva, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Azattyk, that Kazakhstan bought some 70 percent of the goods from the Dordoy Bazaar last year.
She said that, after Kazakhstan introduced limits on the purchase of goods from Dordoy, "trade at the market fell significantly."
Doolotalieva said the merchants at Dordoy do not know what to do. Many, she said, have taken out loans from banks to run their stalls at the bazaar and with drastically reduced sales the merchants have no way to repay the loans.
"Because of this, merchants are ready to support Kyrgyzstan's entry into the customs union," she said and added, "If the Cabinet of Ministers keep ignoring the demands of the merchants, more than 60,000 of them are prepared to go out and rally for their rights."
If the current situation continues much longer, Doolotalieva said, the bazaar might have to close.
The owner of Dordoy Bazaar, Askar Salymbekov, said the only way to keep the bazaar running is for Kyrgyzstan to enter the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia.
Kazakhstan implemented customs union rules in 2011 but much of the problem at the Dordoy Bazaar started later when Kazakh border guards stopped allowing people to carry goods
across the border on foot.
PHOTO GALLERY: Bishkek's Dordoy Bazaar
The situation at the Kara Suu Bazaar in southern Kyrgyzstan is equally grim.
The bazaar is located right on the border with Uzbekistan but that border, which is the gateway to Uzbekistan's 30 million potential customers, is almost always closed and has been for years now. Adding to the problem, recent heightened tensions on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border south of Kara Suu have led to a large drop in trade between the two countries during the crisis.
Kazakhstan's enforcement of customs union rules means the Kara Suu Bazaar has lost its last major market for its goods.
Kyrgyzstan's Prime Minister Joomart Otorbaev was just in Moscow discussing his country's entry into the customs union. He indicated that Kyrgyzstan's membership is still months away but he mentioned the importance of the two bazaars where "tens of thousands of people are working" and said his government is considering measures to keep the bazaars functioning.
Some aren't convinced that joining the customs union will provide salvation for Kyrgyzstan's bazaars. Since most of the goods at the bazaars come from China, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, the customs union's regulations on the reexport of goods would probably still apply.
Kyrgyz economic analyst Azamat Akeleev told Azattyk that merchants are in a difficult situation and have little choice but to support Kyrgyzstan's entry into the customs union. But he said Russia and Kazakhstan would likely view the products at bazaars such as Dordoy as being "contraband goods."
-- Bruce Pannier, based on reporting by Bakyt Asanov with contributions from Gulaiym Ashekeeva of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service