EU Pledges to Speed Up Russia WTO Talks

DAVOS, Switzerland -- The European Union will speed up talks with Russia to try to unblock Moscow's long-delayed bid to join the World Trade Organization, the EU's trade chief said Friday.

European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said, after meeting with Russian officials, that he hoped Russia could finally take its place in the global trade body this year, more than a decade after Moscow launched its accession bid.

Mandelson met with Finance Minster Alexei Kudrin on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday.

"It was a useful and constructive meeting and we have agreed to accelerate and intensify our efforts to resolve all remaining difficulties with a view to getting Russia into the WTO this year. This is our clear goal," Mandelson said.

Russia remains one of only a very few big economies still outside the 151-member WTO and it saw neighboring Ukraine gain clearance from the EU for its accession bid earlier this month.

Joining the organization would make it easier for Russian exporters, including major producers of steel and fertilizers, to sell their products while at the same time its own market would open up further for foreign firms.

A WTO panel approved Ukraine's membership bid on Friday, clearing the way for the country's accession.

Under WTO rules, member countries can require prospective new members to make commitments about their trade rules and economic practices.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, speaking to reporters at the World Economic Forum's meeting on Thursday, said his government would not use its membership of the WTO to hinder the bid by Russia to join the Geneva-based organization.

Economic and political relations between Moscow and Kiev have been strained in recent years by rows over gas prices.