Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Central European Nations Boost Regional Economies

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Central European Nations Boost Regional Economies

Article excerpt

CENTRAL European nations are taking steps to boost regional trade, hoping to reinforce economic reforms at home and smooth the way for integration with the West.

The four members of the Visegrad Group - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia - decided late last month to speed up implementation of the Central European Free Trade Agreement.

The decision will lift all tariffs on nonagricultural goods by 1998, instead of 2001 as originally planned when the four nations signed the CEFTA pact in December 1992. Tariffs on agricultural products, meanwhile, will be significantly reduced beginning July 1.

"This is an instrument for subregional stabilization," said Bela Kadar, Hungary's minister for international economic relations, in a recent Monitor interview.

"Prosperity creates political and social stability," Mr. Kadar added. "It {CEFTA} might ease some historically inherited ethnic and other problems."

Speeding up the implementation of CEFTA is the most significant attempt in the last year or so to reverse a centrifugal trend among the Visegrad states.

The Visegrad Group came into existence in 1991, before the disintegration of the Soviet Union. At the time, Visegrad members shared the view that, by presenting a united front, they stood the best chance of quickly breaking out of the Soviet sphere and rejoining the West.

But as time passed, Visegrad states began to go their own way. Lacking the common perceived enemy - the Soviet Union - Hungary, Poland, and the then-Czechoslovakia started to show tactical differences as they pursued the common strategic goal of joining the European Union (EU) and NATO.

In the last year, friction between some Visegrad members - particularly Hungary and Slovakia - has sometimes reached alarming levels. Hungary complains about discrimination against its ethnic kinsmen, while Slovakia criticizes Budapest's reluctance to sign a treaty recognizing the two countries' present border. …

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