Poland is the largest food producer in Eastern Europe and the world's fourth largest supplier of coal. The Communist government emphasizes heavy industry over agriculture and other sectors, and restricts foreign trade to Soviet-dominated Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) countries. Poland becomes dependent on Soviet raw materials.
In the early '70s, Communist Party chief Edward Gierek secures Western capital and technology to modernize industry. Poland begins to manufacture construction machinery for Western firms, but when its centralized production system fails to churn out enough exports to the West, trade deficits mount, and Poland's government restricts Western imports.
By the 1980s, exports include processed metals, chemicals, machinery, electronic and computer equipment, and all manner of cars, trucks, and ships. Fueled by Soviet aspirations to dominate the seas, Poland has become the fifth largest ship producer in the world, exporting most maritime products to the Soviet Union.
The "shock therapy" reform program launched on January 1 abandons centralized planning in favor of a freewheeling, Western-style market economy. Poland establishes trade ties with the European Union (EU). The rapid decline of Comecon and its imports leads to shortages of fuel and raw materials at a time when Polish products need to grab a share of foreign and domestic markets.
Poland agrees to lower or eliminate tariffs on many European Union imports. Homegrown industries, among them agriculture, construction, electronics, and shipbuilding, struggle to adapt to these new market realities. In 1992 farmers demand higher tariffs and guaranteed minimum prices to protect their products and livelihoods. Poland joins the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995.
Poland's major exports include manufactured goods (44 percent), machinery and transport equipment (34 percent), food (8 percent), and chemicals (7 percent). The European Union countries are Poland's main trading partners, as Poland prepares to join the European single market and become a full member of the Union.
The prospect of E.U. accession, scheduled for 2004, dominates Polish economic and political life, and bodes for a transformation of the landscape of trade. The E.U. is already Poland's main trading partner. But many Poles fear that E.U. membership might overwhelm some sectors of the economy, and a tight result is foreseen in the 2003 referendum to approve membership.
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