Council for Mutual Economic Assistance


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Council for Mutual Economic Assistance

(COMECON or MEA), international organization active between 1956 and 1991 for the coordination of economic policy among certain nations then under Communist domination, including Albania (which did not participate after 1961), Bulgaria, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia participated in matters of mutual interest. Although it was formed in 1949, a formal charter was not ratified until 1959. The charter gave COMECON the same international status as the European Economic Community (Common Market), but the structure was controlled by heads of state. COMECON undertook large-scale measures for organization of industrial production and coordination of economic development through a series of five-year plans (1956–85), but, despite attempts at integration, most trade was strictly bilateral; planned economies had limited mechanisms for transferring trade surpluses or deficits to third world countries. After increasing 400% for its first 15 years, trade among COMECON countries declined. Briefly a coordinating body only (Jan.–June, 1991), it was disbanded in June, when democratization, the collapse of trade and conversion to hard currencies rendered it redundant.

Council for Mutual Economic Assistance

 

(COMECON), an intergovernmental economic organization of the socialist states founded in conformity with a decision of an economic conference of the representatives of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Rumania, and the USSR (Jan. 5–8, 1949). Albania joined COMECON in February 1949 but unilaterally terminated its participation in 1961. The German Democratic Republic (GDR) joined in September 1950, the Mongolian People’s Republic in June 1962, the Republic of Cuba in July 1972, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in June 1978.

The formation of COMECON during the period of the founding of the world socialist system was a natural consequence of the efforts of the Communist and workers’ parties of the socialist countries to draw the peoples of these countries closer together and develop closer economic and political cooperation, directed at the great goals of successfully building socialism and communism and ensuring a stable peace throughout the world. By unifying and coordinating the efforts of its members, COMECON aims to promote the further deepening and improvement of cooperation among the socialist economies, the development of the integration of the socialist economy, the development of the national economies in conformity with plans, more rapid economic and technological progress, the raising of the industrial level of the less developed socialist countries, the uninterrupted growth of labor productivity, the gradual convergence and equalization of the levels of economic development of member countries, and a steady rise in the standard of living of their populations.

Economic and scientific and technological cooperation is based on the principles of socialist internationalism; voluntary participation; respect for the state sovereignty, independence, and national interests of all members; noninterference in each other’s internal affairs; full equality; mutual advantage; and fraternal assistance. COMECON organizes comprehensive cooperation among its members, with the goal of achieving the most rational utilization of natural resources and more rapid development of the productive forces. The organization helps perfect the international socialist division of labor by coordinating national economic development plans and promoting industrial specialization and cooperation. It takes measures to promote the study and successful solution of economic and scientific and technological problems that are of interest to its members. COMECON endeavors to develop, coordinate, and carry out joint measures for the development of industry, science and technology, agriculture, transportation, and trade and for the exchange of services, scientific and technological achievements, and advanced production experience. COMECON bodies submit recommendations to member states on economic and scientific and technological questions and make decisions on organizational and procedural questions. All recommendations and decisions are made only by agreement of concerned member states. Each member has the right to state its concern over any problem under consideration by COMECON. Recommendations and decisions are not sent to countries that declare themselves not concerned with a particular question, although such countries can subsequently adhere to the recommendations and decisions adopted by the other member states.

COMECON is an open organization. Any country can become a member if it shares COMECON’s aims and principles and agrees to assume the obligations stipulated in the organization’s charter. COMECON may invite nonmembers to participate, on terms acceptable to them, in the work of its agencies. Since 1964 the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has participated in the work of COMECON bodies on the basis of an agreement with COMECON. On questions of mutual interest, Yugoslavia participates on equal terms with all member states in the work of COMECON bodies. Representatives of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea participate by invitation in the work of COMECON bodies. In May 1973, COMECON and Finland concluded an agreement providing for cooperation on questions of mutual interest. COMECON signed an agreement on cooperation with the Republic of Iraq in July 1975 and with Mexico in August 1975. The members of COMECON cooperate actively with other countries, regardless of their socioeconomic systems.

As of early 1975, COMECON maintained various forms of relations with more than 30 international, intergovernmental, and nongovernmental economic and scientific and technological organizations. In October 1974, COMECON was granted observer status at the UN.

COMECON’s activities are defined in its charter, which was adopted at the Twelfth Session of the Council in December 1959. The charter was amended at the Sixteenth (June 1962), Seventeenth (December 1962), and Twenty-eighth (June 1974) Sessions of the Council.

Structure as of 1975. The Session of the Council, formed in 1949, is the highest COMECON body. Since the late 1960’s, heads of governments have led the delegations to the sessions. The delegations to the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Twenty-third Sessions of the Council were headed by the first (or general) secretaries of the Central Committees of the Communist and workers’ parties of the COMECON countries. The Session of the Council considers basic questions and issues affecting cooperation among the members, hears the report of the Executive Committee on the activity of the Council between sessions, and determines the main lines of the organization’s work. Sessions of the Council are held once a year in alternate capital cities, based on alphabetical order (the Russian alphabet). Extraordinary Sessions of the Council may be called at the request or with the consent of at least one-third of the member states.

The Executive Committee, which was established in 1962, is COMECON’s main executive body. Each member state sends a representative with the rank of deputy premier. The Executive Committee directs all the work associated with implementing tasks facing COMECON, in conformity with the decisions of the Sessions of the Council. The Executive Committee systematically supervises the fulfillment by member states of obligations based on recommendations they have accepted from COMECON bodies. In addition, the Executive Committee directs the work of committees, standing commissions, and other COMECON bodies.

Established in 1971, the Committee on Cooperation in Planning consists of representatives of the central planning bodies of the COMECON members. Its purpose is to promote and extend cooperation in planning, especially in implementing the Comprehensive Program for Socialist Economic Integration. The committee’s principal task is to pinpoint the main problems arising in the course of cooperation in the basic national economic sectors—problems requiring comprehensive consideration from many points of view and the elaboration of effective solutions. The permanent body of the Committee on Cooperation in Planning is the Bureau, which consists of the deputy directors of the central planning bodies of the COMECON countries.

Founded in 1971, the Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation is an outgrowth of the Commission for the Coordination of Scientific and Technological Research. It consists of chairmen of committees, ministers, and directors of government departments on science and technology. The committee organizes scientific and technological cooperation among COMECON members, with the aim of achieving a fuller and more effective realization of their scientific and technological potentials.

The Committee on Cooperation in Material and Technical Supply was founded in 1974. Its main tasks are the development and extension of economic and scientific and technological cooperation in material and technical supply, especially with the aim of carrying out the Comprehensive Program for Socialist Economic Integration; the organization of multilateral cooperation to improve the utilization of material resources; and the reduction of the volume of materials consumed in production, and on this basis, the raising of the level of efficiency of social production in each COMECON country.

There are also standing commissions for economic and scientific and technological cooperation in particular sectors of the economies of member states. The first standing commissions, which were established by a resolution of the Seventh Session of the Council in May 1956, are made up of delegations from the member states and are usually headed by ministers and heads of government departments for the relevant economic sectors. There are more than 20 standing commissions in COMECON, including commissions for electric power, the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes, ferrous metallurgy, nonferrous metallurgy, the petroleum and gas industry, the coal industry, heavy engineering, the chemical industry, agriculture, and transport.

The main COMECON bodies also include the Conferences of Directors and Representatives of Competent Bodies of Member States. Within the framework of COMECON there have been conferences and consultative sessions of directors of water-use agencies, representatives of shipping and freight organizations, ministers of domestic trade, representatives specializing in legal questions, directors of patent offices, price agencies, and state labor agencies.

The Secretariat of COMECON is an economic, executive, and administrative agency consisting of departments for particular economic sectors and particular functions. Its managerial personnel and specialists are recruited among citizens of the member states. The Secretariat, which is located in Moscow, is directed by the secretary of COMECON and several deputy secretaries. The secretary, who holds the position of highest responsibility in COMECON, represents the organization in dealings with the officials and organizations of member states and other countries, as well as in dealings with international organizations.

The organizational structure of COMECON includes the Institute of Standards and the International Institute for Research on the Economic Problems of the World Socialist System.

The Communist and workers’ parties of the member states orient the COMECON bodies toward solving general theoretical, methodological, and ideological problems that highlight the essence of socialist economic integration and its component elements and the creation and perfection of a highly developed international mechanism for economic and scientific and technological cooperation.

Historical stages. The forms and methods of COMECON’s activity are constantly improved to meet the tasks posed by the Communist and workers’ parties at each stage of socialist and communist construction. The history of COMECON may be divided into several stages.

The first stage (1949–58) was a formative period marked by the beginning of multilateral economic and scientific and technological cooperation among the member states. The focus was on the development of foreign trade and the organization of scientific and technological cooperation. The Second Session of COMECON, which was held in August 1949, approved recommendations for conducting trade between members on the basis of long-term agreements. This enabled the COMECON countries to stabilize their economies and guaranteed them the regular receipt of necessary materials and equipment and the regular sale of their products. The decisions of the Second Session of the Council regarding scientific and technological cooperation, especially exchange of technical documents without charge, were very important in promoting the fulfillment of industrialization plans by COMECON members. At the same time, COMECON resolved problems of cooperation in production, mutual coordination of national economic plans, and industrial specialization and cooperation.

The second stage of cooperation (1959–62) began with the Conference of the Representatives of the Communist and Workers’ Parties of the COMECON countries (May 1958), which laid the foundation for international industrial specialization and cooperation and projected the coordination of the members’ plans for 1961–65. As a result, it was possible to solve the problem of meeting the needs of member states for fuel, raw materials, machinery, and equipment for the planning period. In conformity with a decision of the Tenth Session of the Council (December 1958), the construction of the longest oil pipeline in the world, the Druzhba (Friendship) Pipeline (more than 4,500 km long), was completed, thanks to the joint efforts of the COMECON countries. The Druzhba Pipeline carries Soviet oil to the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, the GDR, the Hungarian People’s Republic, and the Polish People’s Republic. With the construction of the pipeline and the increased supply of Soviet oil, the fraternal countries were able to meet their fuel needs and establish large-scale petrochemical industries. A decision of the Eleventh Session of the Council (May 1959) organized the parallel operation of the Mir (Peace) integrated electric power grids. In 1962 a centralized traffic control for the integrated power grids systems was established in Prague.

The third stage (1962–69) of COMECON history began with the conference of the first secretaries of the central committees of the Communist and workers’ parties and the heads of governments of the member states in June 1962, which outlined the path to further economic and scientific and technological cooperation. The principles of COMECON activity were approved by this conference in the document Basic Principles of the International Socialist Division of Labor.

Characteristic of the third stage of COMECON history was intensified cooperation among member states in the coordination of economic plans, which is the central method of COMECON’s operation and the chief means by which the international socialist division of labor takes shape. To arrange for cooperation in specific economic sectors, a number of international economic organizations were established in 1964: Intermetall, the Common Freight Car Pool, and the Organization for Cooperation in the Ball-bearings Industry. To promote the expansion of foreign trade by member states and increase their cooperation with other countries, an agreement was signed in October 1963 regarding multilateral accounts in transfer rubles and the organization of the International Bank for Economic Cooperation.

The foundation for a new stage in cooperation among the COMECON countries was laid at the Twenty-third (Special) Session of the Council in April 1969. The first (general) secretaries of the central committees of the Communist and workers’ parties, as well as the heads of governments of member countries, took part in the Session. Noting the tremendous achievements in the development of the productive forces of the countries of the socialist community, the Session passed a decision calling for the elaboration of the Comprehensive Program for the Further Expansion and Improvement of Cooperation and the Development of Socialist Economic Integration by the COMECON countries. The Comprehensive Program, which covers a 15–20 year period, was worked out through the collective efforts of all COMECON members and unanimously adopted in July 1971 at the Twenty-fifth Session of the Council. The implementation of this program constitutes the core of present efforts in economic and scientific and technological cooperation and represents the primary means of perfecting the international socialist division of labor. The Comprehensive Program for Socialist Economic Integration is a powerful means of intensifying social production in each COMECON member and in the socialist community as a whole. It is also a powerful means of accelerating scientific and technological progress.

The Twenty-ninth Session of the Council (June 1975) emphasized the importance of strengthening planning, the basis for all cooperation, and underscored the need for the integration of all Comprehensive Program measures with the national economic plans of COMECON members. The session approved the Coordinated Plan of Multilateral Measures for Integration Among the COMECON Countries in 1976–80, a document drafted by the COMECON Committee on Cooperation in Planning, with the assistance of the Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation. The drafting of the plan represented a qualitatively new stage in the expansion and improvement of cooperation and in the development of socialist economic integration.

The Twenty-ninth Session of the Council also called on the Committee on Cooperation in Planning, in collaboration with the appropriate standing commissions and the Secretariat, to carry out the task of organizing the elaboration, between 1975 and 1977, of long-term, target programs for cooperation during the period through 1990. These programs would be designed to jointly resolve comprehensive problems, such as ensuring the economically sound needs of the member countries for essential types of energy, fuel, and raw materials; bilaterally and multilat-erally coordinating the development of machine building, on the basis of extensive specialization and cooperation in production; and meeting the demand for food and consumer goods.

To implement the Comprehensive Program, COMECON bodies have drafted a number of important multilateral agreements designed to meet the needs of the COMECON countries for fuel, energy, and raw materials. These agreements have been accepted by the COMECON countries. Agreements have been concluded for the joint construction of a number of projects in the USSR, including the Ust’-Ilim Cellulose Complex (1972), the Kiembaevskii Asbestos Mining and Enrichment Complex (1973), plants for the production of chemical weed killers and pesticides (1973), and enterprises for the production of iron ore and various ferroalloys (1974). The COMECON countries have also concluded agreements concerning cooperation in exploiting the Orenburg condensed gas deposits; the construction of a major gas pipeline from the Orenburg region to the western border of the USSR, a distance of 2,750 km (1974); and the construction of a high-voltage (750-kilovolt) electric power line from Vinnitsa in the USSR to Albertirsa in the Hungarian People’s Republic (1974). In 1975 a general agreement was signed for multilateral cooperation in establishing new capacity in Cuba for the production of goods containing nickel and cobalt.

The Twenty-eighth Session of the Council (June 1974) adopted a decision to carry out the preparatory work for the creation of an integrated electric power system among the interested European COMECON countries, based on high-capacity power plants and high-and medium-voltage transmission lines between states. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will participate in the implementation of this extremely important task of economic integration. The solution of energy and fuel problems through joint efforts by the COMECON countries is a striking example of the effectiveness of cooperation among them, especially at a time when the capitalist world is experiencing an “energy crisis.”

Between 1971 and 1975 agreements were signed on joint planning in the production of metal-cutting machine tools with programmed control and the establishment of the material and technical basis for a containerized transport system. In addition, the COMECON countries signed 40 multilateral agreements covering more than 3,800 product names and dealing with industrial specialization and cooperation in the production of machinery, equipment, units, and assemblies.

The Regulations on Standards of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and a convention on the adoption of these standards went into effect in 1974. The International Investment Bank, which opened in January 1971, was founded by the COMECON countries to provide long-term and medium-term credit for measures associated with the implementation of the Comprehensive Program. From 1972 to 1974 the COMECON countries established one international economic organization, Interelektro (International Electric), and four economic associations—Interatomenergo (International Atomic Energy), Inter-textilmash (International Textile Machinery), Interkhimvolokno (International Chemical Fibers), and Interatominstrument (International Atomic Instruments). These organizations are an example of the introduction of efficient new forms of economic cooperation.

The Twenty-eighth Session of the Council in June 1974 marked the anniversary of COMECON and summed up the results of 25 years’ work. A special resolution noted that the productive cooperation of the COMECON countries was becoming an increasingly important factor in improving their economic prosperity, in raising their standards of living, and in eliminating the disparities between their levels of economic development.

The COMECON countries constitute the most dynamic industrial region in the world, with a rate of growth exceeding that of any other group of states. Taken together, the national incomes of these countries were eight times higher in 1973 than in 1948 (25 years earlier). The volume of industrial production was 12 times greater in 1973 than in 1948. With 18.5 percent of the world’s territory and 9.4 percent of its population, these countries accounted for approximately one-third of the world industrial production in 1974 (18 percent in 1950). During the five-year period from 1971 to 1975, the national income of the COMECON countries increased, on the whole, by 36 percent, industrial output by 46 percent, and average annual agricultural output by 14 percent.

The accomplishments of the COMECON countries are the result of the efforts of their peoples, their close economic and political cooperation, their fraternal mutual assistance, and the constant concern of the Communist and workers’ parties for the expansion and improvement of cooperation and the development of socialist economic integration. Much credit for these accomplishments must be given to COMECON, the organizer of comprehensive economic and scientific and technological cooperation.

REFERENCES

Ustav Soveta Ekonomicheskoi Vzaimopomoshchi. In the collection Osnovnye dokumenty SEV. Moscow, 1970.
Osnovnye printsipy mezhdunarodnogo sotsialisticheskogo razdeleniia truda. Moscow, 1962.
Kompleksnaia programma dal’neishego uglubleniia i sovershenstvovaniia sotrudnichestva i razvitiia sotsialisticheskoi ekonomicheskoi integratsiistran-chlenov SEV. Moscow, 1971.
Faddeev, N. V. Sovet Ekonomicheskoi Vzaimopomoshchi. Moscow, 1974.

N. V. FADDEEV

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