Russia clears final hurdle to joining WTO

2011-11-03 11:20:22

Russia has reached agreement with Georgia on terms for entering the World Trade Organisation, clearing the final hurdle in a deal that could see it join the body by December after 18 years of talks, the country’s top trade negotiator said.

Maxim Medvedkov, Russia’s WTO accession negotiator, told state media on Wednesday night that Moscow had finally agreed the terms of a compromise agreement with Georgia, the former Soviet republic that went to war with Russia in 2008. It had been the only remaining member of the 153-nation trade organisation blocking Russia’s accession.

“We’re very glad that Georgia supported this project and that we have finally reached agreement,” Mr Medvedkov said.

The agreement should pave the way for Russia to be formally invited to join the trade body in time for the WTO’s December ministerial meeting, bringing to an end nearly two decades of tortuous talks that have kept Russia as the last major economy outside the WTO.

Russia’s accession to the WTO would open up its $1,900bn economy to greater competition while joining the rules-based body could help unlock billions of dollars in investment currently held back from the country by investors worried about the rule of law.

A Kremlin official declined to comment when reached in the early hours of Thursday morning and Georgian officials indicated they had yet to receive official word. Swiss mediators have been locked in last-ditch negotiations with Moscow and Tbilisi over a compromise deal they brokered last week in which Georgia agreed for independent third parties to supervise trade across the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the two breakaway regions that have been occupied by Russian troops since the war.

Russia indicated on Sunday that only “minor” issues remained to be agreed, leaving Swiss mediators to conduct one last round of negotiations with Georgia.

Mr Medvedkov said on Wednesday the agreement did not “go beyond Russia’s principle position”, while Russia and Georgia had agreed for trade data between the two countries and the two rebel regions to be passed on to an independent audit company.

Analysts predict the breaking of the logjam on Russia’s accession could lift the country’s stock market by as much as 5 per cent, while the World Bank has predicted that Russia’s economy could be boosted one per cent in annual GDP growth every year.

“This is something that markets have been waiting for more than 15 years. Finally getting it complete would be a major boost for Russia and the markets,” said Roland Nash, chief strategist at hedge fund Verno Capital.

Even though Russia’s accession bid had faced stiff opposition from powerful industry lobbyists who fear domestic industries could be damaged by the greater competition from foreign players, the latest push by the Kremlin could indicate a widespread belief that the pros outweigh the cons, he said.

“It’s been an embarrassment that Russia is not part of the world’s biggest trading organisation,” Mr Nash said. “This is a sign that trade relations are normalized.”

Andrew Somers, head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow, said accession would help solve some of the “reputational” issues Russia suffers with investors.

Russia's accession to the WTO – a process that began before the organisation even took its current form in 1995 – would be a very welcome morale boost for an organisation struggling hard for relevance. Trade ministers and WTO officials are slowly facing up to the failure of the first multilateral trade negotiation - the so-called "Doha round" of trade talks - that began in 2001.

Following the accession of Saudi Arabia in 2005, Russia's entry to the WTO would mean that every one of the large G20 economies was a member of the organisation.



The Financial Times