Russia says Belarusian oil duty violates bilateral agreement

The Ministry of Economic Development said Thursday that Belarus' imposition of a stiff import duty for Russian oil transiting Belarus violates a bilateral trade agreement, Russian news agencies reported Thursday.

Belarus, angry over Russia imposing a duty on oil exports to Belarus and over Russia's doubling its price for natural gas, on Wednesday announced it would impose an import duty of US$45 (Ђ34) per metric ton of oil that Russia ships to Western Europe.

Two pipelines crossing Belarus take oil to Poland, Germany and the Baltic countries. The increased duty would effectively raise the cost of a barrel of Russian oil by about US$6.50 (Ђ4.90).

The Russian ministry said in a statement that the duty contradicts a free-trade agreement signed between Russia and Belarus in 1992, in which "each side should guarantee the uninhibited transit through its territory of goods produced on the customs territory of the other side," the ITAR-Tass news agency said.

Sergei Grigoriyev, a spokesman for Transneft, the Russian company that operates the pipelines crossing Belarus, told The Associated Press his company had not received any documents from Belarus demanding the duty.

The Russian ministry's statement said that "world practice" says import duties should be imposed only on goods that are produced in or purchased by the country establishing the duty, ITAR-Tass said.

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