Russia says leaders of the Eurasian Economic Union (EES) have agreed to start negotiations on a trade deal with China.
Speaking on May 31 after an EES summit in the Kazakh capital, Astana, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said the negotiation process will be “challenging.”
The Russia-led EES was officially inaugurated two years ago after the leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus signed a founding treaty. Armenia and Kyrgyzstan later joined the grouping.
Shuvalov said a free-trade deal signed with Vietnam last year was expected to come into force this year after the ratification process is finalized.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev said the EES was also interested in cooperation with India, Israel, Egypt, and Cambodia.
But Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka urged his partners to resolve the internal issues of the bloc, such as hundreds of exclusions to its free-trade rules.
Trade turnover within the bloc dropped to $45 billion in 2015 from $65 billion a year in 2012-13, according to Lukashenka.