Trade booming with Belarus: Russian PM

Russia's Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov has revealed that trade with Belarus increased by more than 20 per cent in the first half of the year. Mr Zubkov is on his first official visit to Minsk.

Mr Zubkov met President Aleksandr Lukashenko before greeting his Belarusian counterpart, Sergey Sidorsky, with the upbeat trade report.

“The volume of trade between the two countries has increased by 22% in the first half of this year, making up more than $US 15 billion. I'd like to stress that Belarusian exports are increasing rapidly; the volume is $US 5.5 billion. Russian exports to Belarus have also risen by 19.6% – which is more than $US 10 billion,” Russia's Prime Minister, Viktor Zubkov, added.

Mr Zubkov also noted that Russia is ready to boost oil deliveries to Belarus.

Nevertheless, the issue that really interests Belarus – the price it pays Russia for gas – was not even on the agenda.

Russian energy company Gazprom insists there is nothing further to discuss. The hike to $125 per 1,000 cubic metres of Russian gas complies with an agreement signed in January. It spells out the process leading up to 2011, when Russia expects Belarus to pay international market prices for gas.

Both countries have only had moderate success in integrating their economies since signing the Union of Russia-Belarus agreement back in 1996.

Although the two prime ministers say their countries have resolved many thorny issues on their way to a common economic zone, people on the streets of Minsk seem split over the benefits of a  tighter union with Russia.