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Ukraine: Deputy Prime Minister Gives Upbeat Assessment Of Country's Outlook

On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in New York, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Vasyl Rohovyy reiterated his country's aspirations to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Rohovyy also spoke of the need for agricultural reform and about proposed legislation to encourage the return of the massive amount of capital that was transferred out of the country in the 1990s.

New York, 5 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- In an upbeat assessment of the Ukrainian economy, Deputy Prime Minister Rohovyy said growth in his country is strong and stable and that agrarian reforms will be implemented, including the right to privately own land.

In a news conference yesterday in New York, Rohovyy singled out the country's agriculture sector as an illustration of how well Ukraine can manage its own needs. He said that in 2001, Ukraine fulfilled 96 percent of its food needs with domestic production and that Ukraine is exporting millions of tons of grain each year.

Ukraine enjoyed a record grain harvest of nearly 40 million tons in 2001, up more than 60 percent from the year before.

As yet another sign of the country's improving economic and financial situation, Rohovyy said gold reserves in the Central Bank of Ukraine have doubled since 2000.

A U.S.-based economic research firm, PlanEcon, which specializes in the economies of Central Europe, recently called Ukraine's economy the regional leader, noting that its gross domestic product grew at about 9 percent in 2001. It credits reforms pushed through by former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, but said the government of current Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh has delayed some reforms and that it is unlikely economic growth can continue at such a pace.

At the news conference, Rohovyy also spoke about the speedy legal work being done so that Ukraine can fulfill the requirements for membership in the WTO. He said he expects Kyiv to fulfill all its obligations in regard to WTO membership by the end of 2002.

He linked the requirements for WTO membership with the need for significant economic reforms: "It is very important so that deep structural reforms be implemented in the economy, especially in the agrarian sector of the economy. It is important that legislation be introduced so that land could be transferred into private ownership. Also the forms of agricultural management [agricultural entrepreneurship] should be closely looked at."

Rohovyy also said measures must be introduced to battle rampant corruption. He said the most effective way to curb corruption would be passage of a bill that would guarantee the legality of all capital gains and revenues. He said this could also help reverse Ukraine's capital outflow.

"It is very important to guarantee [by law] the legality of [all types] of capital gains [revenues]. There is a bill introduced in the parliament that will deal with this issue," Rohovyy said. "We hope that [if passed] this bill will allow the capital that was taken out of Ukraine and that is now serving the developed countries to come safely back into Ukraine."

Rohovyy said his government is taking appropriate action to curb the illegal production of compact discs, computer software, videotapes, and other forms of intellectual property. Ukraine is considered one of the world's most blatant compact-disc piraters. Antipiracy groups estimate Ukraine's illegally produced CDs cost the international music industry $180-250 million a year. In retaliation, the United States in January imposed trade sanctions that will restrict U.S. imports of steels and almost two dozen other items from Ukraine.

Rohovyy said he can't accept the U.S. position that Kyiv is doing almost nothing to curb such production.

He also spoke about what he called the frequent misrepresentation by foreign media of the situation in Ukraine: "The participation of our delegation in the [World Economic Forum] allowed us to spread out new information about Ukraine, [of] the realistic picture of what's going on in Ukraine. We have to keep in mind that [the media] sometimes presents the situation in Ukraine in bleak colors. I'd say this is an inadequate presentation. I don't want to say that we need a rosier picture of Ukraine, but sometimes you see [or] hear such things about Ukraine that are absolutely inadequate -- in the economy, in the society, and in political life."

Western media reports have recently focused on a law restricting coverage of Ukraine's parliamentary elections in March, criticism by international monitoring groups of past elections in Ukraine, as well as on the number of journalists beaten or murdered in the country over the past decade.