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Central Europe: Prime Ministers Hope For A Stabilized Russia

By Elisabeth Weinstein

Prague, 14 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman downplayed (Sept. 11) the effect of the Russian economic crisis on member countries of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA).

Zeman made the comment as host of a two-day CEFTA conference bringing together seven prime ministers, which opened today in Prague. Zeman said they all expressed their "sincerest hope" that the economic and political situation in Russia stabilizes. He said CEFTA members were not under the influence of Russia, but he expressed the fear that if western countries withdrew from the Russian economy, CEFTA members could feel an impact.

Zeman also announced the creation of a sub-committee on agricultural trade to help solve trade disputes among CEFTA members. Disputes between Romania and Hungary over wheat taxes, and Poland and Hungary over agricultural import taxes, have erupted in the past several months.

In addition to Zeman, prime ministers from CEFTA members Hungary, Slovenia, Poland, Slovakia, and Romania are attending the conference, along with the Bulgarian prime minister, whose country is in the process of joining.

Separately, Zeman sought to reduce speculation about a future meeting with Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. Both said they will meet for bilateral talks on political issues, but no date was revealed. Meciar said his discussions with Zeman today were "not of a decisive nature."