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Socialist Countries Face the European Community

Soviet-Bloc Controversies over East-West Trade

Suvi Kansikas

In the early 1970s, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) began to revise its trade policy towards the outside world. It needed to counter the European Community’s bid to implement its Common Commercial Policy and thereby change East-West trade practices. Foreign trade priorities became at once a crucial issue on the socialist countries’ political agenda. The key question was whether they would have to open their system to the global economy – and bear the consequent pressures and competition that this decision entailed. Based on newly declassified archival sources, this study shows how the East European states were able to lobby their positions towards the USSR within the CMEA. The pressure from its allies forced the Soviet leadership to accept the CMEA’s opening towards the EC.
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Successful tactics or false optimism?


As the highest decision-making level of the socialist bloc – the Warsaw Pact Political Consultative Committee – had decreed in its January meeting, the CMEA had to have a common policy towards the EC by April 1972. The CMEA members were preparing to submit their position papers to the CMEA Secretariat which in turn would compile a summary of the different positions. The Executive Committee would deliberate on the issue and to adopt a commonly accepted policy at its April meeting. The Soviet Union had taken the lead in actions towards the EC.

The CMEA discusses the EC policy

The Executive Committee convened in Moscow to review the national position papers as had been agreed. There was a general exchange of opinions on the working materials, followed by oral remarks from the Soviet representative Lesechko. The CMEA Secretary Nikolai Faddeev and representatives of all member states, Romania included, took part in the discussion. At the centre of discussions was how to prepare an offensive strategy against the EC countries.284

Lesechko’s remarks echoed some optimism generated by the speech of Brezhnev in March: the EC might possibly take up the Soviet offer and in turn make an approach towards the CMEA. Lesechko pointed out that it was now the EC’s turn to act so the CMEA and its members should refrain from any actions at this point. According to him, the Soviet policy line was to become the reference point for the CMEA: 1) relations...

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