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Khoroshkovskiy: Time to Press ‘Refresh’ Button With Ukraine

President Barack Obama set the tone for his administration in 2009 with the famous “reset” button for U.S. relations with Russia. This allowed both countries to restart their strategic partnership and work together despite the baggage of the preceding years.

What is needed now is a similar “refresh” button with Ukraine. It is, after all, a natural strategic and trading partner for the United States in Eastern Europe. In 2008, both countries signed a Charter on Strategic Partnership, but yet closer ties still need to be cultivated between our peoples and our business communities.

Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe and a key geostrategic partner for the United States in the region. Given the importance of Ukraine maintaining good neighborly relations with Russia, a strong, independent Ukraine is crucial to keeping the region stable and peaceful.

We believe that the West has a great deal to offer Ukraine, and vice versa. Today, we are working to enact deep systemic reform of our economy, our judicial system and, ahead of parliamentary elections this fall, our electoral laws.

Our government and opposition were united last year on a decision voted on in parliament approving a new European-style electoral system — a move that was praised by the Council of Europe — and we have invited thousands international observers to our upcoming parliamentary elections later this year.

We have launched bold tax and pension reforms, heralded for their effectiveness even as we emerged from a crippling recession.

We have encouraged a free market in natural gas by opening our pipeline network — the transit route for the majority of the EU’s natural gas — to any and all suppliers.

Ukraine is consistently fulfilling its costly but vitally important reforms as a key member of the EU’s energy community. Furthermore, we have signed important contracts for shale energy exploitation with companies such as Chevron.

Ukraine has shown leadership on the world stage, too, giving up its nuclear weapons to become a non-nuclear state, and contributing to U.S.-led security and peacekeeping operations from the Balkans to Afghanistan to Iraq.

Our economic growth is getting back on track after a difficult recession in 2009. In 2011, our gross domestic product rose by 4.7 per cent, and this year it should grow by 3 percent to 4 percent.

In February 2010, Viktor Yanukovych won Ukraine’s presidency in a free and fair election. International monitors praised the democratic conduct of the election, as the country sought to move on from the bickering and sniping of the Orange Revolution-era leadership.

Ukraine has since made a determined choice to link its future with the West. We are committed to EU integration, a key priority for our country, and we recently initialed a long-awaited Association Agreement with the EU, including the first-of-its-kind deep and comprehensive free trade area. During the past few months, we have settled a long list of issues, which remained outstanding in our relations with the EU for ages.

We have also made it clear that Ukraine is seeking close cooperation with NATO, including the holding of joint military exercises.

At the same time, we are seeking friendlier ties with Russia, which is a key strategic partner. Ukraine would wish the whole of Europe to be without dividing lines. Russia must be a part of the whole European area of free movement of people, goods, services and capital. We must aim for this goal whatever the difficulties we face now. Ukraine perceives its European integration not only as a national choice, but also as a mission to unite Europe, to remove lingering divisions from Cold War times.

What we are doing, in effect, is carving out an independent niche for Ukraine, as a dynamic bridge between the West and the East.

It is in the West’s interest that Ukraine is politically and economically supported in this effort, further strengthening our reform process. Ukraine has made real progress, and for that, we owe a debt to the West. But we need your continued support to help us over the finish line.

What Ukraine is looking for today is a relationship with the United States that is based on mutual respect and shared interests, both strategic and economic. After all, America is only the 14th largest market for Ukrainian goods, far below the real potential in our trade ties. We can do much better.

Ukraine wants U.S. companies to enjoy its business-friendly environment. We are simplifying the regulatory environment, making substantial cuts in the number of bureaucratic procedures and creating a more transparent and enforceable legal environment.

We continue to make strides to improve copyright infringement, intellectual property and computer piracy protections thanks to measures against unlicensed PC products and software. This had earlier been an issue between our two countries, but not any longer.

This week, I will have the honor of leading my country’s delegation to the Ukrainian-American Commission on Trade and Investment in Washington.

This will be an opportunity to work together with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to put trade back on the front burner and to work through the issues that remain to be resolved between us.

We are making deep, systemic reforms in Ukraine, reforms that will help unlock the untapped potential of an already fast-growing economy.

We hope that our friends in the U.S. administration will work with us to improve and intensify our trade and investment ties. We believe the United States will find in Ukraine a strong and stable regional partner.

Or to put it another way, it is time to hit the “refresh” button with Ukraine.

Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy is first deputy prime minister of Ukraine.

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