Updated at 11:50,16-10-2017

"Updated" agreement on cooperation could become new basis for Belarus-EU relations, official says

Artsyom Shraybman, BelaPAN

An "updated" or advanced agreement on cooperation could become a new basis for relations between Belarus and the European Union, Dzyanis Sidarenka, head of the Directorate for General European Cooperation at the Belarusian foreign ministry, said in his opening speech at an international conference on the expansion of Belarus-EU cooperation, which was held at Belarusian State University in Minsk on Thursday.

According to Mr. Sidarenka, the potential for cooperation between Belarus and the European Union in a number of pragmatic matters of mutual interest has not been realized to the full extent.

Belarus hopes that the EU's Eastern Partnership will contribute to the expansion of bilateral cooperation, as well as to the solution of existing problems, Mr. Sidarenka said.

"Unfortunately, the Eastern Partnership did not meet our initial expectations," he said. "We hoped that the program would be more practical and there would be significant infrastructure projects that would bear fruit at the local level."

"We currently promote the idea of launching a flagship initiative aimed at harmonizing the digital markets of the EU countries and the member countries of the Eastern Partnership with a view to some integration and broader cooperation between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union," Mr. Sidarenka noted.

Belarus does not aim to become a member of the EU or sign an association agreement with the bloc, Mr. Sidarenka said, adding that Belarus prioritizes the development of integration processes in the Eurasian region.

However, Belarus would still like to have close relations with the EU, and an "updated agreement on cooperation could become a new basis for Belarus-EU cooperation in the future, Mr. Sidarenka noted.

"As for economic integration, we do not set ourselves the task or goal of drawing up or signing an agreement on the establishment of a free trade zone," he said. "Our priority is to join the WTO [World Trade Organization]. We hope that cooperation with the European Union will speed up the process of our accession to this organization."

"We have also launched a new dimension in our cooperation with the European Union to a new dimension and started so-called modernization consultations," Mr. Sidarenka said. "This is a new page in our dialogue. We have identified a number of areas in order to express our views on how we see our cooperation and forms of cooperation in modernization matters in the future."