Russia set to enter global trade body

Associated Press

Geneva, June 26:

Russia’s attempts to enter the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are on track, Russian trade minister claimed but trade officials said negotiations still face many obstacles.

The minister, German Gref, said Russia would not accept extra obligations that would hurt the Russian economy, but said it was ‘realistic’ for Russian membership to be approved at a major trade meeting in Hong Kong in December. “It is possible to finish negotiations by the end of the autumn, if the parties really want it,” Gref told the WTO working party on Russian accession.

Russia has been negotiating for entry into the 148-member global trading body since 1994. Trade officials say numerous problems have yet to be resolved, including differences over Russian farm trade barriers, protection of its banking sector and import duties on industrial goods such as airplanes.

Gref said Russia was making progress in some sectors such as fighting piracy, which has long been clamored for by American trade officials, but said others would need ‘transitional periods’ to help them adjust to competition within the global trading system.

“Some of these sectors have only been working on a market economy basis for six or seven years,” Gref said, “We had to rebuild the legislative infrastructure in a very short period of time, while other countries had it in place for decades or centuries.”

The US told the WTO that fighting piracy was extremely important to its agreeing to let Russia into the trade body. “We see this as a key to our progress on multilateral issues,” said a US delegation statement. It said US-Russian differences over protecting copyrights and other intellectual property “cast a long shadow over the accession negotiations.” The responsibility for bringing negotiations to a successful conclusion now lies squarely with WTO members states, Gref said.

“Our pockets have been emptied,” he said.

To satisfy existing members of the trade body, Russia has had to embark on a major set of legislative reforms to fall in line with WTO rules, including producing a new customs code. But trade officials — who described this week’s negotiations in the working group on Russian accession as ‘frosty’ — said the pace of reform has not been fast enough and compromises would be needed on a number of key sticking points.