Central Europe Alliance Seeks Intramural Trade

BRNO, Czech Republic -- Central European prime ministers agreed to admit Slovenia to a free trade zone for post-communist nations and reduce a list of "sensitive" goods still subject to trade barriers.


But a summit of the Central European Free Trade Area (CEFTA) exposed how little the former East Bloc states do business with each other.


Leaders of the CEFTA nations -- Poland, Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Republics -- agreed at their one-day meeting Monday to let the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia become its fifth member.


"Slovenia shall become a CEFTA signatory by the end of the year 1995," said a final letter signed by the four premiers.


"We have had full consensus," Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, who hosted the summit in Brno, told a news conference.


But elsewhere consensus was thin on the ground. The leaders agreed vaguely to cut the number of "sensitive" items not yet covered under an existing agreement to scrap tariffs on many industrial items and some agricultural goods within the alliance.


Asked what goods were on the sensitive list, none of the leaders at the news conference would offer a concrete reply beyond saying that they comprised "dozens" of things.


"We expect by the next summit there would be a reduced list of sensitive items," Klaus said, without elaborating.


But officials said grains, sugar and automotive components were among the list of protected or exempted goods.


At the meeting, Polish Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy bemoaned the lack of trade between the member countries. In a prepared statement to the closed-door summit, he said CEFTA's principal economic objectives had been met but the group needed to do more, faster.


"We are not fully content. We cannot be satisfied with the fact that Poland's CEFTA partners account for just 5 percent of our total foreign trade," he said.


Since the 1989 fall of communism, all the Central European nations have turned their trading focus away from former East Bloc allies to the West, notably Germany.


In the rush, trade with neighbors has been neglected. The most active trading partners within CEFTA are the Czech and Slovak Republics, which were one country until the Czechoslovak federation split less than three years ago. Oleksy said more needed to be done in agriculture, calling it "a sector where protectionist measures are still extensive."


"A bold decision on opening our agricultural markets ... will be a good lesson of how to proceed with integration, and a signal to the European Union that further trade liberalization in such products is possible also between CEFTA and the EU," Oleksy said.


All four CEFTA states are associate EU members, and only the Czech Republic has yet to apply for full membership.