US, Russia seal trade deal

Hanoi, November 19:

The United States and Russia today signed a bilateral agreement that paves the way for Moscow to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after more than a decade of tough negotiations.

US trade representative Susan Schwab and Russian economic development minister German Gref signed the pact on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Hanoi.

“Without doubt this accord is a very important occasion for the integration of Russia into the global economy,” Gref said. “I’m very pleased to be here today to have the opportunity to celebrate this very important milestone as Russia moves one important step closer to becoming a member of the WTO.”

The deal comes ahead of bilateral talks between US president George W Bush and Russian president Vladimir Putin, scheduled for later in the day. The pact lifts one of the final obstacles standing in the way of Russian accession to the global trade body.

Vietnam itself has just secured its own membership of the world trade body and will formally join by the year’s end, also after tough negotiations with the US. Russia, the world’s only major economy outside the WTO, has been trying to join the organisation since 1994 and

the US is the last major WTO member to give its assent.

With Washington on board, Russia now needs to clinch multilateral agreement with all 149 WTO members in Geneva and may also have to overcome a bitter diplomatic standoff with WTO member Georgia. The Democrats’ triumphant return to control of the US Congress in elections earlier this month could complicate matters as Russia’s record on political freedoms, human rights and the environment comes under scrutiny.

US business groups urged Congress to move swiftly on granting Russia, Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status and to abolish Cold War-era limits imposed on commerce with the former Soviet Union. Congress cannot block Russia’s WTO accession but without PNTR, US and Russian businesses will not enjoy full access to each other’s economies even after Moscow joins the global body.

APEC meet ends

HANOI: Leaders of the Pacific Rim nations wrapped up a two-day long summit in Hanoi on Sunday with a united call for the resumption of the Doha Round talks and a commitment to consider a free-trade area for the Asia-Pacific region. “The consequences of the failure of the Doha round would be too grave for our economies and for the global multilateral trading system,” read a joint statement. — DPA

US, EU dispute

GENEVA: The EU and the US, knowing there will be no winners, are still hesitant about a bruising showdown at the WTO over government support for aircraft makers Airbus and Boeing. “The two sides keep arguing about procedure and are messing around for political purposes,” said a diplom-at. The US and EU launched reciprocal complaints over subsidies to the world’s two biggest civil aircraft markers in October 2004. — AFP