WTO working group approves Russia's entry

2011-11-10 17:40:44

Russia took a "big step" towards the end of its 18-year bid to join the World Trade Organization as it secured on Thursday the first of two approvals needed for its membership to the trade body.

"It has been a long journey, but today, Russia has taken a big step towards its destination of membership in the WTO," said the trade body's director-general Pascal Lamy.

Negotiators on Thursday approved a package of reforms and commitments pledged by Russia in order to join the WTO.

Following the action by the committee of negotiators, the package would be sent to a conference of ministers in mid-December for the second and final approval for Russia's adhesion.

The Russian parliament would then have up to June 15, 2012 to ratify the accession and bring it into force.

"It is gratifying to see that after 18 years of sometimes uneasy negotiations, the process of WTO accession is completed today," said Maxim Medvekov, Russia's chief negotiator.

"The agreement as negotiated brings us into the system of multilateral trading rules, creating new opportunities for our traders and investors and enabling us to protect their commercial interests even more effectively than before," he added.

Russia submitted its application to join the WTO in 1993 but talks dragged on and its membership bid was further delayed after its brief war with Georgia in 2008.

As a member of the WTO, Georgia is able to veto any accession bid and it was only after months of Swiss-mediated talks that Tbilisi and Moscow finally reached a bilateral agreement on Wednesday.

The Swiss-mediated accord with Tbilisi would see the international monitoring of cross-border trade through Georgia's Kremlin-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In all, Russia sealed 30 bilateral agreements on market access for services and 57 on access for goods in order to secure the green light from WTO negotiators.

For the overall package, Moscow agreed to cut its tariff ceiling from the 2011 average of 10 percent for all products to 7.8 percent.

The average tariff ceiling for agriculture products would be lowered to 10.8 percent from 13.2 percent currently, while for manufactured goods, it will be 7.3 percent, down from the current 9.5 percent.

Russia also agreed to limit farm subsidies to $9 billion in 2012, and to gradually reduce the sum to $4.4 billion by 2018.

It further pledged that all producers and distributors of natural gas in Russia would "operate on the basis of normal commercial considerations" and that the 49 percent foreign equity limit for the telecommunications sector would be scrapped four years after accession.

The chair of the negotiating group for Russia's membership, Stefan Johannesson described Thursday's breakthrough as a "historic achievement for the WTO".

"I am convinced that Russia's accession to the WTO will bring substantial benefits both to Russia and to the members of this organisation," he said.