Russia could clinch WTO deal by Dec 15: Kremlin aide

2011-10-31 18:22:45

Russia could agree a deal on joining the World Trade Organization by December 15, a Kremlin aide said on Monday, amid growing signs its 18-year campaign to join the trade body is coming to a conclusion.

One of the biggest obstacles to Russian membership appeared to have been at least partly removed last week when its foe and WTO member Georgia agreed to a "final proposal" from Swiss mediators to assist Russia to join.

"If we manage to complete all the necessary processes, a working group is going to meet on November 11," Arkady Dvorkovich, the economic adviser of President Dmitry Medvedev, told reporters.

"If the decision of the working group is positive, then the process of Russia's accession to the WTO may be completed by December 15 in a ministerial meeting," he added, without specifying the nature of the meetings.

Dvorkovich made clear the deal would still require ratification before Russia - the largest economy in the world to remain outside the WTO - formally became a member.

The Kremlin's adviser on foreign policy Sergei Prikhodko meanwhile said that the "Russian position on our readiness to enter the WTO remains unchanged."

Medvedev said on Sunday that he hoped to see Moscow join the WTO by the end of the year after meeting Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey for previously unannounced talks at his residence.

In an apparent sign of growing momentum to solve the issue for good, a Swiss delegation is due to meet Georgian officials in the resort city of Batumi later Monday, where Calmy-Rey is also set to hold a meeting with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

A senior Georgian official repeated that the Swiss compromise deal was "final" and said that it "cannot be changed".

"Georgia has already agreed to this proposal, so Russia has its WTO membership on the table - they just have to take it," the head of the country's National Security Council Giga Bokeria told AFP.

The ex-Soviet state says it is in favour of Russian membership of the WTO but its conditions for agreeing to allow its powerful neighbour to join have threatened to derail Moscow's efforts to finally become a member.

Tbilisi has been demanding international monitoring of cross-border trade in the Russian-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Moscow recognised as independent states after the 2008 Georgia-Russia war but are seen by most other countries as sovereign Georgian territory.

Georgian officials say the proposed compromise deal would see a private company contracted by a third international party physically and electronically monitoring goods entering and leaving the breakaway regions.

Russia's negotiator at the talks in Geneva has said Moscow will give its response this week.