WTO Talks Over: Georgia Finally Let's Russia In

World | November 9, 2011, Wednesday // 19:32|  views

US VP Joe Biden (middle) with Russian President Medvedev (right) and FM Sergei Lavrov (left) in March 2011 when the USA approved Russia's bid for the WTO. EPA/BGNES

Georgia and Russia have signed a Swiss-brokered deal that removes the last big obstacle to Moscow joining the World Trade Organization after 18 years of negotiations.

"It's over. We've signed the document. There are no more obstacles from Georgia to Russia to becoming a member of the WTO," announced Wednesday night Sergi Kapanadze, Georgian deputy foreign minister and senior negotiator, as cited by The Moscow Times.

Russia's accession will be the biggest step in world trade liberalization since China joined the WTO in 2000, sealing its integration into the world economy two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"We are delighted that agreement has been reached between Georgia and the Russian Federation. We congratulate them, and we congratulate the Swiss mediators," said in turn WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell.

Kapanadze said Russia and Georgia, which do not have diplomatic relations, covered the basic principles for monitoring mutual trade between Moscow and Tbilisi, including two Moscow-backed breakaway regions in Georgia.

Russia has said it hopes that a WTO working group meeting this week will draw up a final document for approval by WTO trade ministers in Geneva on Dec. 15, 2011, The Moscow Times says.

Entry also needs the approval of Russian parliament, which is likely before an election next March that is expected to return Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to the presidency.

The 153-member WTO is an international organization set up to liberalize global trade and regulate trade and political relations between its members.

Russia has been the only major global economy to be excluded from the WTO; it has been seeking membership at the world trade bloc for 18 years but disputes with other states that are already members have stalled its accession.

In the fall of 2010, both the USA and the EU withdrew their objections to Russia's WTO accession after extensive talks and the settlement of disputes. At the same time, however, Georgia, a WTO member with whom Russia fought a brief war in August 2008 over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, continues to be opposed to its accession to the global trade bloc.

Russia recently signed a free trade agreement on Tuesday with most of the countries of the CIS, the successor group of former Soviet states. Earlier this year, Russia set up a customs zone with Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Russia had hoped to conclude WTO accession talks by the end of this year, but obstacles remain over Russian insistence on support for the agricultural sector and car production.

Russia and Georgia resumed talks October 20 to forge a deal that would let Moscow join the World Trade Organization, an outcome that the US and Europe would like to see before the end of the year.

The dispute with Georgia is one of the last major hurdles in the way of Russia's 17-year bid to join the global trade body, but the Swiss-mediated discussions broke down last week.

As a WTO member, Georgia can block Moscow's bid to join. Tbilisi has offered to trade its consent for Moscow's allowing international monitoring of border crossings in the Russian-occupied break-away regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia argues that is not an issue for the WTO talks.

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Tags: Russia, Georgia, Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister, WTO, World Trade Organization, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Geneva, Bern, trade


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