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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

GUUAM Countries Sign Trade Pact

KIEV — Leaders of five former Soviet republics on Thursday signed a charter to formalize their loose alliance and ease trade and transport within the GUUAM organization.

"Our concrete aim is to create a capable organism of transport corridors from Europe to Asia," Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said after signing the documents. "I think every country will benefit from this cooperation."

GUUAM is an acronym made up of the first letter of each member's name: Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova.

During the ceremony, broadcast on Ukrainian television, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said the GUUAM alliance will focus on strengthening economic ties, and voiced hope that other states will join the alliance in the future.

The presidents signed the charter as they wrapped up a two-day summit in the Crimean resort town of Yalta.

But an expected agreement on a more comprehensive GUUAM free-trade zone was not signed after some participants — including Uzbek President Islam Karimov — voiced their opposition and said the accord would be premature.

The member states, which seek access to regional and international markets, are expected to focus their cooperation on the energy sector.

"Not only does the competitiveness of a state's economy depend upon the energy sector, but its political and economic stability also," Kuchma said.

GUUAM is one of several loose alliances of former Soviet republics united within the equally loose Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS, and, like the others, it has largely failed to meet expectations. The informal alliance was created in 1997 with the goal of providing new transport routes to Europe, and Uzbekistan joined in 1998.

GUUAM leaders have rejected the notion that the alliance could become a political or military bloc.

"There is no threat to somebody's interests in the fact of GUUAM's creation and its activity," Kuchma said.

Shevardnadze also stressed that GUUAM was not a military organization and "it will never stand against other regional organizations."

According to the charter, the next presiding state will be Azerbaijan, and Yalta has been determined as the site for all future summits. No date for the next meeting has been specified yet.