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ITERA HALTS DELIVERIES TO UKRAINIAN COMPANIES. Gasdistribution company ITERA said on 16 January that it has suspended deliveries of natural gas to four Ukrainian energy firms because the latter had fallen behind in their payments, ITAR-TASS reported. ITERA said that it had warned the firms two weeks ago that they will be cut off. The four owe the Russian company some $64 million. PG
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION... Parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch on 16 January called on lawmakers to find a "different approach" to the media sphere in Ukraine in order to eliminate censorship. Lawmaker Oleksandr Zinchenko said the authorities apply "political censorship" in both nationwide and regional media and "manipulate public opinion" through the state-controlled media. Ihor Lubchenko, head of the National Union of Journalists, told the parliament that Ukrainian journalists live with the fear that they may be beaten or even murdered for their professional activities. Communist lawmaker Borys Oliynyk said a majority of Ukrainian media outlets either depend on the authorities or "serve the [oligarchic] clans." Socialist lawmaker Oleksandr Moroz said honest journalists are a threat to the authorities, adding that there will be no freedom of expression in Ukraine without changing the current ruling regime. JM
...WHILE DISSAPPEARED JOURNALIST'S MOTHER COMPLAINS OF PRESSURE. Lesya Gongadze, mother of missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, told the parliament the same day that she is being pressured "to agree immediately to the burial of the body" found near Kyiv last year and believed to be her son's. "But I am the mother and want to know whose corpse I am burying," she added. Lesya Gongadze called for an additional examination of the body in order to establish the cause of her son's death. JM
KYIV REPORTS HEALTHY ECONOMIC GROWTH IN 2000. Natalya Zarudna, Premier Viktor Yushchenko's spokesperson, told Interfax on 16 January that Ukraine's GDP in 2000 grew by 6 percent compared to the previous year. Zarudna added that last year agricultural production increased by 7.6 percent compared to 1999, the first growth registered in the agricultural sector since Ukraine declared independence in 1991. Ukraine's industrial production rose by 12.9 percent compared with the previous year. JM
POLISH GOVERNMENT WANTS TO REGAIN CONTROL OVER YAMAL PIPELINE STRETCH. A government commission led by Communications Minister Tomasz Szyszko has found that the government lost control over the Polish section of the Yamal gas pipeline, Polish media reported on 16 January. The government's investigation into the pipeline was launched following an article in the 17 November "Gazeta Wyborcza" stating that an fiber optic cable was laid along the Polish stretch of the pipeline without the knowledge of the Polish government (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 21 November 2000). Szyszko said the PGNiG company, which represents the state's interests, has only 48 percent of the shares in the company controlling the Polish stretch of the pipeline, while, according to a 1993 Polish-Russian accord it should possess a 50 percent stake. Szyszko said the state wants to regain control over the pipeline stretch but he did not elaborate. JM
The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has recently reviewed agricultural reform in Bulgaria and Romania. While there is praise for Bulgaria, the organization says the slow pace of reform in Romania is a cause for concern.
In a survey released in Sofia on 16 January, the OECD says Bulgaria's agriculture policies in the last four years have saved the sector from collapse. The survey says Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's government has created a solid foundation for Bulgaria to make improvements in agriculture that are vital to its European Union membership bid.
The OECD notes that Bulgaria and Hungary are Eastern Europe's only net exporters of food. The organization attributes this to more open trade policies and to the elimination of price controls that previously kept most farmers from earning profits from their work.
But the OECD says Bulgaria still faces tough challenges. Among them are the need to create a functioning market for land -- where private land can be easily bought and sold or used as collateral for agricultural loans. Another challenge involves restructuring and encouraging competition among companies that process the farmers' output so that farmers receive a fair market price for their products.
Two months ago, the OECD released a study on Romanian agriculture reform that is more critical. The organization cited the lack of an overall reform framework until 1997 as a key reason that Romania has become a net importer of food.
OECD agriculture expert Andrzej Kwiecinski told RFE/RL that one problem facing Romania's private farmers is that they don't have access to the larger national market, since the links between state farms and food-processing companies are still very strong.
He said that small-scale farmers are, thus far to a large extent, cut off from the main domestic and foreign markets. The only remaining option for them is local markets, which could offer the possibility to sell small quantities, but which do not provide small-scale farmers with the chance to expand their activities and to become more efficient.
Private farmers in Bulgaria faced similar barriers in the mid-1990s, when either the state or nomenklatura business groups held monopoly control over food processing. Combined with the many restrictions on exporting at that time, private farmers had little choice but to sell their crops at prices that were far below international market prices. In practice, Bulgaria's main food exporters before 1997 were private business groups with strong enough government connections to obtain export licenses.
The OECD report praises Kostov's government for tearing down some of the pillars of an agricultural sector that was, in effect, a system of nomenklatura feudalism. This was done mainly by liberalizing domestic food prices and abolishing the restrictive measures on exports.
The OECD credits the policies of Kostov's government for stabilizing Bulgaria's national economy and allowing a market infrastructure to develop in agriculture.
The OECD says another major advance for private Bulgarian farmers came in 1998 when laws were passed to establish a western-style warehouse receipt system. Warehouse receipts help western farmers get short-term credits for the seed, fuel, fertilizers, and pesticides that they need through the growing season. Warehouse receipts are essential to free-market agriculture because they allow farmers to obtain loans by using grain they've stored at licensed warehouses as collateral.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has committed about $100 million to a four-year program aimed at developing Bulgaria's warehouse grain receipt system. The EBRD has also praised the Kostov government for setting up the necessary legal framework and liberalizing the grain markets. Experts at the bank say lessons from this program could help neighboring countries improve the financial infrastructure of their own farming sectors.
Agricultural experts from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also agree that a proper legal framework is essential to a successful warehouse receipt program. A USAID pilot program for warehouse receipts in Ukraine during the mid-1990s has been cancelled, reportedly because too many traders used the forum merely as a meeting place and then conducted transactions on their own outside of the program.
In Romania, the OECD says one of the biggest reform tasks facing the new government is to create job opportunities for rural residents who are leaving agriculture. More than 35 percent of all jobs in Romania are in the agriculture sector, but this is expected to decline as the sector becomes more efficient.
Ironically, Romania's land privatization program has created a problem that is the opposite of the situation in Ukraine and Russia. Romanian farm plots are too small to be farmed efficiently. The OECD says the average plot size is about two hectares. The reason for this is because Romania's land privatization was based on restitution to the owners (or descendants of owners) before nationalization in the 1940s.
Many Romanian landowners now are either leaving their fields fallow or are renting them to a few large farms that do not have any interest in protecting the long-term fertility of the soil.
In contrast, Kwiecinski says the average size of farms in Russia and Ukraine is about 7,000 hectares. Most farm workers in those countries have a paper coupon showing they have rights to a portion of land from their former state farms. But few can identify an actual plot of land that is theirs.
Moreover, the large collective state farms have been privatized only on paper, but have not been broken up into the ideally efficient size of 500 to 1,000 hectares. Nor has the management of most former state farms been changed.