EU Fails to Reach Agreement With Russia Over Europe-Ukraine FTA

The European Union said it failed in its final attempt to reach a breakthrough over Russia’s concerns about a free-trade agreement between the EU and Ukraine.

The FTA accord will come into force on Jan. 1.

After 23 meetings with Ukrainian and Russian officials since July 2014, the European Commission said on Monday that it was unable to accommodate Russia’s wishes, some of which were contrary to European and World Trade Organization rules. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Dec. 16 decision to suspend his nation’s own trade pact with Ukraine added unnecessary pressure and was in breach of Ukraine’s cease-fire deal, the Brussels-based commission said.

“We spent 18 months in extensive discussions” to try to accommodate Russian concerns about the trade pact, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said on Monday in Brussels. “I was deeply surprised by President Putin’s decree of Dec. 16 that suspends all Russia’s obligations towards Ukraine” under the two countries’ free-trade agreement, which “goes against the mandate, the spirit and the objective of these talks.”

The breakdown of the talks came as the EU decided to extend economic sanctions on Russia for another six months, until July 31, because of the Kremlin’s failure to implement all of the conditions of the Ukraine peace accord agreed in Minsk earlier this year. The EU had opened talks with Ukrainian and Russian officials about Russia’s concerns over the free-trade agreement as part of efforts to defuse tensions and achieve a peaceful settlement to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The European Commission said in its statement that Putin’s decision to suspend Russia’s trade agreement with Ukraine “added an element of political pressure and contradicted the conditions set out in the Minsk declarations to engage in the trilateral talks.”

The EU said Russia wanted its objections -- which included concerns related to food exports, customs cooperation and the energy industry -- contained in a legally binding agreement between the three sides. This would have meant revising the draft trade pact, which had been under negotiation since 2008 and finalized in March 2013, something the EU said it wouldn’t do.

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