Russia hopes to wrap up WTO talks

St. Petersburg, June 11:

Russia hopes to complete bilateral negotiations on its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) with Guatemala, Vietnam and Cambodia this year, Russia’s deputy economics minister said.

Maxim Medvedkov, chief negotiator at accession talks with the global trade body, said Sunday Russia would sign an agreement with Guatemala in the next two weeks and with Cambodia in early July. Talks with Cambodia are in progress, he said. “The issue will be closed before the end of the summer.”

He said after completing talks with the two Southeast Asian countries and Guatemala, Russia would have to hold bilateral talks with Georgia and Saudi Arabia. The latter has not officially started the negotiating process.

Russia had to re-enter WTO talks with Georgia in May after the former Soviet republic withdrew its signature from an earlier agreement a few months ago amid souring bilateral relations.

Georgia wants Russia to honour its 2004 commitment to close checkpoints on the border with Georgia’s breakaway regions. The Kremlin says this is not a WTO-related issue. Medvedkov also said Georgia had handed over a list of other WTO-related demands to Russia, which would be responded within the next two weeks.

Speaking at a major economic forum here Sunday, WTO Secretary General Pascal Lamy said the world body could not be considered a multilateral organization without Russia.

The official also said that Russia needed the WTO membership to improve confidence in its economy.

Another high-ranking official, European Commissioner for Trade Peter Mandelson, pledged Sunday more assistance to Russia and other ex-Soviet states in their WTO bids. He said he would press with his efforts to secure Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan into the trade organization as soon as possible.

Russia’s economics minister, German Gref, discussed further steps on WTO negotiations at meetings with Mandelson and Lamy as part of the 11th St. Petersburg Economic Forum.

Deputy US Trade Representative Susan Schwab told a news conference in St. Petersburg Russia could joint the trade organization as early as in 2007.