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Poland: Frontier Regulations Cause Sudden Decline In Trade

Warsaw, 19 January 1998 (RFE/RL) - Poland's recent decision to tighten up its eastern borders has brought an immediate decline in cross-border trade but the long-term prospects look relatively good.

Under the regulations which came into effect at the end of last month (Dec. 27), foreigners entering Poland have to prove they have about 20 dollars per day, a reservation slip from a hotel or an officially confirmed invitation from a Pole. The regulations have hit hardest Russians and Belarusians because their governments have failed to sign agreements on visa-free traffic with Poland. The immediate effects of the new measures drastically affected operations of some 15 "bazaars" or large-scale retail markets functioning in Poland.

Polish Market Economy Institute said that the turnover of the all markets stood at 5.6 thousand million dollars worth in 1996. The largest of those markets set up at an old sports stadium in Warsaw is the biggest Polish outdoor trading enterprise. It created about 70,000 jobs for Poles employed in various small workshops producing textile products, shoes and gadgetry for eastern markets. According to the Institute, goods worth $350 million were exported from the stadium in 1996, rising to $400 million last year. Traders in the stadium said yesterday in a series of interviews with RFE/RL that the number of traders from Russia and Belarus has drastically declined in recent weeks. And this is certain to affect both Polish producers and foreign traders. "A lot of goods were made by various workshops but there are few clients to buy them," one trader said. "Many workers will have to be laid off unless the situation improves."

Small individuals traders like Galina Strumskaya from Smolensk, who was selling spoons, will likely be eliminated. "I am not sure I will come back because I would have to invest more money in business," she said. "There is a problem with invitation, a visa is needed, plus dollars to pay hotels."

But an Armenian trader selling binoculars and car gadgets said the situation should come back to normal soon, although some changes will have to be made.

"I am here with an old invitation but a new one will cost me more," he said. He said he will have to pay some money to his Polish friend to compensate for the time his friend spends in various offices to get the documents needed to come back again. "So the prices of our products we are bringing in will cost more,' he said. Bogdan Wyznikiewicz, an expert in the Market Economy Institute, said the decline in trade is only temporary but small traders will probably be out of business. "After a time, everything will be like before," he said. "There are already established trading links between Polish and Russian or Belarusian small firms,' he said. 'They will accommodate themselves to the new situation."