EU gives green light for Russia joining WTO

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Russia and the European Union struck a deal yesterday (24 November) to phase out Russian export tariffs on raw materials, paving the way for Moscow to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said.

"We have [reached] an agreement on a text on raw materials," Shuvalov told reporters after a high-level meeting with European Commission officials.

A phasing-out of export taxes "will be imposed from the time we ratify our accession to the WTO," he said.

Russia's willingness to phase out export duties on raw materials such as timber – which drive up the cost of inputs for European manufacturers such as the Nordic timber and paper industries – removes a European veto on Russia's accession.

"Both sides are confident that this agreement will greatly facilitate the overall process of accession of Russia to the WTO," the delegations of the EU and Russian Federation said in a joint statement.

The largest economy still outside the 153-member WTO could join the body that regulates world trade in the course of 2011, Shuvalov said.

Russia has scaled up pressure for its accession, with President Dmitry Medvedev this month discussing the issue with US President Barack Obama.

Under WTO rules, candidate countries must reach bilateral agreements with any existing member that wants one, as well as with a working party representing the entire membership.

Russia will have to tackle other remaining hurdles to its accession, such as its state payments to farmers and ceilings on beef imports entering the country at low tariffs.

Tbilisi objections

At some point Russia and other WTO members will also have to address Georgia's objections to Russian membership of the WTO.

Georgia says Russia cannot join the WTO because its support of two breakaway regions of Georgia, after a war between the two former Soviet neighbours in 2008, deprives Tbilisi of control of customs points on its internationally recognised frontier.

Under the WTO's system of decision by consensus, Georgia has an effective veto over Russian membership. It is allowing negotiations to proceed informally but is blocking formal steps.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

Russia is the largest country outside the 153-member World Trade Organisation (WTO). It has been trying to join the WTO for 16 years now. 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned in June 2009 that Russia's bid to join the WTO was losing momentum. 

On 4 June 2009, EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton said she agreed with Russian Economy Minister Elvira Nabiullina that Moscow's WTO accession should be completed by the year's end, saying the two sides had a "common understanding". 

Surprisingly, days later Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Moscow would only join the trade body in partnership with Belarus and Kazakhstan. WTO officials deplored this decision, saying that it would delay Moscow's entry significantly.

Russia has previously accused the United States and the European Union of hindering its WTO membership bid for political reasons.

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