In parallel with discussions about the deepening of reforms held in Brussels (November 28-30), the Moldovan authorities agreed in Moscow (November 29) a new controversial Plan of Action for developing the commercial and economic relations with Russia, designed for 2016-2017.
The Plan of Action or the ‘roadmap’ was negotiated in a non-transparent way and wasn’t published after the protocol it contains was signed (Ministry of Economy, November 29, 2016). The inexistence of the variant in Romanian of the plan that was negotiated in Russian could be one of the reasons. However, the leaks to the press (NewsMaker, November 30, 2016) show that the Moldovan authorities reached particular compromises with the Russian side, which could affect particular aspects of the commercial dimension of the Association Agreement with the EU.
In the main, the Plan of Action allows maintaining the commitments made by Moldova within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). This thing fully matches one of the objectives of the foreign policy conception that was made public by Russia recently (Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation, November 30, 2016).
Restoration of trade with Russia or attempt to tie Moldova to the CIS?
Even if the Moldovan authorities assured Brussels that the European integration of Moldova will be developed, these signed a protocol that contains a Plan of Action for restoring the commercial relations between Moldova and Russia. Most probably, this document was consulted with the European side. If not, this could represent a gesture of betrayal.
Anyway, particular Russian officials said that Chisinau didn’t manage to negotiate something substantial as many measures proposed by the Moldovan side to restore trade with Russia were rejected. Among these is the elimination of import duties imposed on Moldovan products (19 categories), exclusion of the restrictions on the export of vegetal and animal products and exclusion of the discriminatory ‘one-stop shop’ mechanism for Moldovan wine products.
The Moldovan authorities welcomed yet the signed document, noting that Russia pledged to issue more authorizations for local carriers involved in the export to Russia and authorizations to transit the Russian territory (Ministry of Economy, November 29, 2016). The possibility of negotiating long-term contracts for purchasing natural gas is another reason invoked by the Moldovan side.
Particular Russian officials described the Plan of Action as a measure to ‘discipline’ the Moldovan authorities (NewsMaker, November 30, 2016). This includes a set of commitments of Chisinau concerning the economic aspect and, indirectly, the implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU without which the Association Agreement cannot produce a major transforming potential in the country.
The list of commitments, divided into 13 chapters, includes the implementation of the CIS agreement to pursue a coordinated policy in the area of standardization, metrology and certificates of 1992. At the same time, the Moldovan side agreed to take part in the working out of new rules concerning integrated standards in the CIS, called GOSTs. Moldova also pledged to examine the possibility of joining the agreement on the mutual recognition of the results of metrological measurements (of July 2015).
A number of provisions of the Plan of Action envision the confirmation and even re-inclusion of Moldova in the CIS normative framework on trade. Thus, there were included commitments providing that Moldova’s permanent participation in the work of CIS institutions must be ensured. Also, Chisinau is to join the new decisions adopted in the CIS, including to fulfill the legal obligations that derive from these.
Simultaneously, if the CIS obligations collide with other commitments that can be related to the Association Agreement, Moldova and Russia must immediately initiate consultations to eliminate the contradictions. So, the Plan of Action, proposed by Russia and accepted by Chisinau, envisions a greater role for the CIS rather than a series of legal commitments, including deriving from the Association Agreement with the EU.
Ultimately, the implementation of the Plan of Action could have the potential to temper the economic integration with the EU, in particular as regards the transposition of the European technical regulations and standards, and also in other areas.
Aspects of Moldovan-Russian relations of Plan of Action
The set of commitments also reflect the bilateral Moldovan-Russian relations. These envision the Russian side’s readiness to implement the CIS Free Trade Agreement of 2011, as well as of Moldova, even if it is Russia that does not respect it.
Even if the Moldovan products continue to be discriminated on the Russian market, Moscow obtained official Chisinau’s commitment to guarantee the unhampered access of the Russian agrifood products. This guarantee will be strengthened by a normative-legal document adopted by the Moldovan side.
In general, the Plan of Action is a document that visibly favors the Russian side as it contains multiple unilateral commitments that meet the economic interests of Russia. For example, Chisinau committed itself to consider importing agricultural equipment, aircraft and public transport made in Russia. This run counter to the principles of free market, where purchases are made based on the price/quality ratio, without being favored by political commitments between governments. If this commitment is fulfilled in this form, the Russian producers could be advantaged to the detriment of the others, including the European ones.
In many respects, this Plan runs counter to particular provisions of the Association Agreement, as regards the DCFTA. The implementation of this document will necessitate efforts on the part of Chisinau and could distract attention from the carrying out of the DCFTA.
Strengthening of the CIS role as a foreign policy objective of Russia
In general, the CIS and the realization of its potential form part of the major priorities of Russia’s foreign policy, which are contained in the Concept of Foreign Policy of 2013, but is more powerfully highlighted in the new conception published on November 30, 2016.
Under the new conception, Russia declares that it respects the right of the CIS member states to establish relations with other international players independently. However, ignoring the sovereignty of the CIS countries, Moscow demands that these should fulfill all the obligations that derive from the regional integrationist projects in which Russia is involved.
Before a feasible plan for Moldova’s entry into the Eurasian Economic Union appears, Russia does not lose any opportunity to maintain it in its sphere of influence through the CIS. Such an intention of Russia can be deduced by analyzing the Moldovan-Russian Plan of Action concerning the development of the commercial-economic relations.
Instead of conclusion
It seems that the goal of the Plan of Action is to also use the restoration of the commercial relations with Russia for the purpose of tying Moldova to the old agreements and the new ones concluded in the CIS.
The fact that Moldova pledges to undertake the CIS obligations, either these coincide or not with the national priorities that now derive from the European integration, is the harsh part of this accord.
There is not much certainty that the Plan of Action will really help eliminate the barriers to Moldova’s exports. The document does not stipulate clear conditions that should be met for the Russian side to renounce the politicized character of the restrictions imposed on Moldovan producers until now. Instead, the Plan of Action envisions a series of measures that run counter to the initial goal of the document, related to the restoration of Moldova’s presence in the CIS.
Evidently, the given document will be used as a pretext for exerting pressure on the current government and the subsequent governments, offering a political instrument for the pro-Russian opposition.
The conclusion is that Russia regards the CIS as a method of keeping and increasing its influence in the countries that do not yet form part of the Eurasian Economic Union. In this regard, the path to the Eurasian Union promoted by Igor Dodon and his Party of Socialists and other pro-Russian players in Moldova is to be ensured easier namely through the CIS.
Dionis Cenușa is a politologist, holding an MA degree in interdisciplinary European studies from the College of Europe.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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