MINSK Leaders of Belarus and Cuba have signed an agreement on economic and political cooperation in Havana, in what was widely considered a purely symbolic move.
Alexander Lukashenko, president of the former Soviet republic of Belarus, and his Cuban counterpart, Fidel Castro, signed a 10-year accord under which the two countries granted each other most-favored-nation trading status during Lukashenko's official visit to Cuba
Under the accord, Belarus will import 200,000 tons of sugar from Cuba in exchange for 100,000 tons of nitrogen and 80,000 tons of sodium fertilizer.
Trade between Cuba and the former Soviet Union has dropped dramatically since the collapse of the socialist system. In 1999, trade volume between Belarus and Cuba stood at $40.3 million, slightly up from $34.3 million the previous year.
Experts say the move was mostly political, with little economic gain to be realized from either side. "Cuba may need Belarusian goods and, at the same time, it needs to sell its own products," said Alexander Sosnov, deputy director of the Minsk-based Independent Institute for Social, Economic and Political Studies. "But high transportation costs would bring all possible profits to nothing. The agreement is more of political importance."
Belarus and Cuba have been in international isolation because of their authoritarian leaders. Belarus' economy, like that of Cuba, is still largely controlled by the state, and some Soviet-era practices have been restored in recent years.
"Our [Belarus' and Cuba's] positions in the international scene and assessments of the main aspects of global processes are absolutely similar," Lukashenko was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS.
Speaking to journalists in Havana, Lukashenko expressed regret over the severing of economic ties between the former Soviet Union and Cuba after the collapse of communism, which resulted in Cuba's GDP shrinking by 38 percent.
"In my view, we [formerly Soviet republics] are deeply indebted to this state [Cuba] politically, morally and, possibly, economically," Lukashenko was quoted as saying.