Russian aide says issues with Georgia on joining Trade Group may be settled soon

2011-10-31 11:42:06

A top adviser to President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia said Sunday that the handful of outstanding issues necessary for Russia to join the World Trade Organization could be resolved in a matter of hours, suggesting that a deal was imminent after 18 years of stop-and-go negotiations.

The adviser, Arkady V. Dvorkovich, made the comments after a meeting between Mr. Medvedev and the president of Switzerland. Switzerland has been acting as a mediator in thorny talks with Georgia, which, as a member of the trade organization, has the power to block Russia’s membership bid.

“There are a number of issues that will require clarification,” Mr. Dvorkovich said after the talks. He said the Swiss negotiators would travel to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, to discuss them.

“We hope that all the issues will be agreed on over the next few hours,” he said, in comments reported by the Interfax news service, adding that none were major problems.

The comments suggest that Russia is seeking some changes to a compromise proposal that Georgia endorsed Thursday. Georgia has sought trade-monitoring missions on its border with Russia, and its negotiators claimed they had softened their original position by agreeing that the monitors would be private contractors, rather than government employees. According to the proposal, put forward by Swiss mediators, the private contractors would be hired by neutral parties, like the European Union.

It is unclear what alterations Russia is seeking in the deal. Russia has long resisted monitoring in a form that would compromise Moscow’s formal recognition of two Georgian enclaves as sovereign nations. Mr. Dvorkovich spoke emphatically on the issue last week, saying of Georgia’s demands that “we cannot meet them, and we will never meet them.”

On Sunday, though, Mr. Dvorkovich said that if Russia’s outstanding concerns were addressed, he saw no “substantial impediment” to approving Russia’s accession documents at a November meeting. Russian membership would be made final at an annual ministerial meeting in December.

President Micheline Calmy-Rey of Switzerland, who met here with Mr. Medvedev on Sunday, will meet with Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, on Monday, according to a Georgian official.

Giga Bokeria, secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council, said it was not clear whether Russia was raising significant objections to the proposal or simply seeking to clarify points that have been left vague, like the question of what public entity would oversee the company that will monitor trade on the border.

“It’s just common sense — if they accept the proposal, it’s fine,” he said. “If they are saying they need changes in the current proposal, that might mean no.”

Russia has the largest economy of any country not in the 153-member World Trade Organization, and the World Bank says that by joining, Russia could bolster its annual gross domestic product by as much as 11 percent over the long term. Short-term gains would be smaller, at 3.3 percent, and noncompetitive industries stand to suffer, leading some Russian experts to oppose membership.

Mikhail Remizov, head of the Institute of National Strategy, a research group in Russia, called membership “neither a necessity, nor some sensible benefit.” In conditions of economic crisis, it would limit Russia’s ability to use protectionist policies to support its industries, he said in an interview with the radio station Kommersant FM. By providing a roadblock, he said, Georgia had ultimately served Russia’s interests.

“Russia’s best friends often turn out to be its non-friends,” he said.



The New York Times