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Astana To Sign Expanded Cooperation Deal With EU

Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov
Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov

Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov says his country will sign an expanded partnership agreement with the European Union next month.

Speaking in Astana at the first session of a forum devoted to Eurasian economic developments, Masimov said Kazakhstan wants "to sustain and deepen its ties with the EU."

"Our country's leader, President Nursultan Nazarbaev, has been promoting multivectored and peaceful policies in order to sustain good ties with all the countries of the world, including our strategic partners: Russia and China, and the European Union," Masimov told attendees in the capital.

One year ago, during a visit by Nazarbaev to the EU capital, Astana and Brussels concluded four years of negotiations on a 280-page Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.

The EU is eager to strengthen cooperation with Kazakhstan, which has the biggest economy in Central Asia and is a key partner of Moscow's in the Eurasian Economic Union.

The accord is looser than the political association agreements and accompanying free-trade deals that the EU has offered eastern neighbors like Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova.

But it is more ambitious than anything previously agreed with any other Central Asian state or with Russia.

The deal is also expected to regulate economic relations, including technical barriers to trade, food safety, services, capital movement, raw materials, energy, and the protection of intellectual property.

The foreign-policy portion focuses on regional stability, the fight against terrorism, cooperation related to Afghanistan, and negotiations with Iran over Tehran's nuclear program, as well as the situation around human rights and democratic institutions.

The deal arguably makes EU-Kazakh ties closer than relations between Brussels and Moscow, whose efforts to negotiate a similar deal have been stymied by strains over issues ranging from energy-market access to the conflict in Ukraine.

Also on November 11, Nazarbaev spokesman Dauren Abaev told an online press conference that the introduction of a single currency in the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union -- which comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia -- is not on the organization's agenda.

The head of the Russian Duma's Committee for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Leonid Slutsky, said earlier this week that a process had been launched to discuss the possibility of introducing a single currency for the union.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been increasingly isolated since Russia occupied and annexed Crimea from Ukraine in early 2014, has pressed hard to de-dollarize the post-Soviet region.

In March, Putin said that it was time to start talks on a currency union among Eurasian Economic Union member states.

Kazakh Deputy Economy Minister Timur Zhaqsylyqov publicly rejected Putin's proposal on April 22, citing "a clear and consistent [Kazakh] position on excluding the possibility of introducing a single currency within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union."

Economic strains have been building between Kazakhstan and Russia. In March, Kazakhstan restricted the sale of Russian food products, citing consumer safety concerns.

Russia invoked similar reasons for bans in April on Kazakh dairy products, fruits, and vegetables.

The tensions also reflect concerns in Kazakhstan over the Kremlin's intentions, given Moscow's interference in Ukraine, where more than 8,000 people have been killed in the conflict between Ukrainian armed forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Kazakhstan has a large ethnic-Russian population.

With reporting by KazTAG and Kazinform
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