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Lithuania: Prime Minister Calls For Speedy Accession To WTO

Washington, 18 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius concluded a three-day working visit to Washington Wednesday, leaving with new optimism that Lithuania may finally complete its negotiations to get into the World Trade Organization (WTO) by the end of the year.

Vagnorius met with U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky on his last day in Washington and said he came away with a hope now that the accession negotiations could be concluded this year. At present, Latvia is the only one of the three Baltic nations to have entered the WTO. A WTO spokesman (Hans-Peter Verner) told RFE/RL today that talks with Tallinn are advancing and that Estonian membership should come soon. That leaves Lithuania.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Vagnorius said a major but unrecognized problem has been the incompatibility of requirements for joining the European Union and for joining the WTO:

"I am afraid I'll have to explain a few things concerning our accession into the WTO. The thing is, we are thinking about our accession to the WTO and we are also thinking about our accession to the European Union. Unfortunately, the requirements that are sometimes set by the EU are not always in line with the requirements of the WTO."

Vagnorius said he discussed with the U.S. Trade Representative compromise decisions that could be reached quickly -- compromises that would balance the requirements of the EU and the WTO. The U.S. is leading the WTO accession negotiations with Lithuania.

As a result of that meeting, Vagnorius said Lithuania's negotiators will soon come forward with concessions and compromise decisions that should pave the way for the country's acceptance in the WTO.

Vagnorius said agriculture is no longer the major stumbling block to Lithuania's accession and that Lithuania is willing to make significant concessions in moving into the global trade regime:

"I'm afraid I have to say that the agricultural area is not the essential area, really, because we have already concluded a package of proposals and I hope this package is going to give an optimistic end to the finalization and conclusion of all the necessary agreements. We have suggested that we would like to have the transitional period during which we are ready to eliminate our export subsidies as well as we are ready to reduce our customs duties and agricultural domestic support.

"And I would like to stress in this respect that domestic support as well as export subsidies are not that large amounts when you come to think of it. The amounts are really symbolic. Well, just try to imagine agricultural subsidies are only 15 million us dollars, so I'm afraid this not only an economical problem, this is another problem."

Vagnorius said his country was hit hard by the Russian financial crisis, which lowered government revenues in the first two months of this year by more than 264 million dollars. Trade volume between Lithuania and Russia dropped has dropped significantly in the past year, he said, and some Lithuanian companies lost a great deal of money as well.

However, said Vagnorius, it was not all bad news:

"Yes, indeed, in this winter, the national revenues were lower by - the shortfall is about 10 percent. But still I would like to note that we have been able, despite all the difficulties and losses, to withstand the impact of the financial crisis in Russia. And to maintain the stability of the Lithuanian financial system."

Vagnorius said that while the government still has the ability to further cut its outlays, the budget is balanced and revenues, compared to last winter overall, are growing.