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Central Europe: CEFTA Trade Talks Open In Slovakia

Jasna, Slovakia; 13 September 1996 (RFE/RL) - Prime ministers of the five-nation Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) began meeting in the Slovak mountain resort of Jasna today.

The meeting, which will focus on trade liberalization, involves the prime ministers of the five current CEFTA members -- Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. In addition, delegations from Romania, Ukraine, Latvia and Lithuania are also attending.

Lithuanian deputy foreign minister Algimantas Rinkunas told RFE/RL that Lithuania sees membership of CEFTA as a step towards integration into Western alliances, including the European Union.

Lithuania already has bilateral trade agreements with the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Rinkunas said he expects negotiations with Hungary to begin next month and believes Lithuania will join the World Trade Organization within a year. That would open up the possibility for the country to join CEFTA.

Rinkunas said liberalized trade would create export opportunities for Lithuania and would make the local economy more competitive. Under CEFTA, most trade tariffs between member countries are expected to disappear by the year 2001.