Georgia: Russia Will Join WTO When We Please

World | April 28, 2011, Thursday // 18:47|  views

Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze has refuted the statement of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov that Russia can join the WTO without Georgian consent. Photo by EPA/BGNES

Russia will join the World Trade Organization only when Georgia agrees not to veto the Russian membership, according to Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze.

On Thursday, Vashadze slammed his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov for recent statements that Russia can find a way around the Georgian veto to join the WTO.

Russia remains the last major economy that is not a member of the 153-nation WTO; over the fall of 2010 it cleared out its trade disagreements with the USA and then with the EU getting their support for its WTO accession. Russia has been in membership talks with the WTO for 17 years; the European Union finally gave its formal backing to the country's entry bid in December last year after Russia agreed to trim timber export duties and rail freight tariffs.

However, Georgia, which as a WTO member has the right to veto a new accession, remains the last obstacle to the Russian membership because of the strained bilateral relations. Georgia says it will not allow Russia to join the global free trade club unless it cedes control of customs in the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Georgian-Russian WTO talks resumed on March 10 in Switzerland after being suspended for almost three years following Russia's decision to lift economic sanctions against Georgia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in April 2008. The second round of talks is expected to start by the end of April.

"Threats made by Russia from afar that it could enter the organization without Georgia's consent are a pure bluff and blackmail," Georgian Foreign Minister Vashadze told journalists on Thursday, as cited by Interfax, adding that any country's plans to become a WTO member must be approved by all of the organization's member states.

Georgia, however, does not seek to block Russia's accession to the WTO, the minister said.

"Blocking Russia's entry into the WTO is not the goal of our participation in talks in Bern and Zurich, where the second round is taking place. We want to work together with Russia and the Swiss side to find a way out of this judicial absurdity, which was created by the Russian Federation's decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states," he said.

Georgia has not raised any political or military issues at these talks, where only procedures and rules envisioned by the organization's charter have been discussed, Vashadze said.

"Georgia should have the possibility to control its borders and its customs terminals," he said.

In his words, Tbilisi is ready to reach an agreement with Moscow, but the Russian authorities will have to heed the conditions put forward by Georgia.

Speaking on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had commented that Russia can circumvent a potential Georgian veto for the WTO.

"I do not want to go into details on how it could be done without Georgia's consent. All I can say is these opportunities are stipulated under the WTO statute," Lavrov said during his current visit to Abkhazia, as cited by RIA Novosti, which reminds that Tbilisi earlier admitted that Russia could in theory join the WTO without Georgia's consent but said it would be unprecedented.

Georgia severed diplomatic relations with Russia in August 2008 when Moscow recognized the independence of the two former Georgian republics Abkhazia and South Ossetia following a five-day war, which started when Georgia attacked South Ossetia in an attempt to bring it back under central control.

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Tags: Russia, Georgia, Sergey Lavrov, Grigol Vashadze, Foreign Minister, WTO, World Trade Organization, Abkhazia, South Ossetia


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