BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European Union and Ukrainian officials on Wednesday said they were likely to approve a free-trade agreement 'sooner rather than later,' two weeks after Ukraine's president appeared to reject the idea of a deal.
The EU and Ukraine launched free-trade talks two years ago, at a time when Ukraine's pro-Western government was pushing for closer ties.
On October 1, the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, elected in February, attacked the proposed deal as costly and unfair.
But Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said after a visit to Brussels on Wednesday that he was 'confident that we will, in the end, reach agreement on all points' of the free-trade deal.
The EU's commissioner for neighbourhood affairs, Stefan Fule, said there was now 'optimism' in talks and that, given enough political momentum, an agreement could be reached 'sooner rather than later.'
According to EU officials, the planned deal would open the bloc's market to most Ukrainian goods as soon as it comes into force, while Ukrainian tariffs would be phased out over up to 10 years.
The EU estimates that it could generate billions of euros in extra trade, over and above the current annual figure of 20 billion euros (28 billion dollars).
However, Yanukovych has said that the deal would cost his government billions in lost tariff revenues, and accused the EU of abusing his country by not offering visa-free travel as part of the deal.
His comments caused raised eyebrows in Brussels, where visa liberalization is seen as a separate issue from trade liberalization.
The EU and Ukraine are currently debating lifting visa restrictions on Ukrainian citizens as part of a separate political agreement.
At a summit in Brussels on November 22, the EU hopes to present an action plan which Ukraine should follow in order to qualify for visa liberalization, Fule said.
Separately, Fule and the president of the council of EU member states, Herman Van Rompuy, urged the Ukraine to reinforce democratic rule after a constitutional court decision handed sweeping powers from the parliament to the president.
'The establishment of a democratic, effective and durable system of checks and balances should remain a priority,' Van Rompuy said.