Ukraine Clears Final Hurdle to WTO

Assembly.coe.intHryhoriy Nemyrya
The European Union said Thursday that it had cleared the final hurdles in talks about Ukraine's accession to the World Trade Organization after Kiev agreed to a deal on the duties it applies to exports.

Ukraine is the biggest country besides Russia and Iran outside the 151-member WTO, which oversees global trade.

At a meeting in London late Wednesday, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Hryhoriy Nemyrya "sealed the final terms of the agreement" clearing the way for Ukraine's entry into the WTO, Mandelson said in a statement.

The EU was the last trade partner to have reservations about Ukraine's WTO membership.

"Today's agreement clears the way for Ukraine fully to join the world trading system," Mandelson said. "This is the first step toward greater Ukrainian integration with the global and the European economy."

He said the EU would soon begin negotiations for "a comprehensive free trade agreement with Ukraine."

Chile's WTO ambassador, Mario Matus, who chairs the working party on Ukraine's accession, said earlier this month that he hoped to have a meeting of WTO members in the second half of January to finalize the accession package, provided the export duty issue was resolved.

The way would then be clear for the next WTO general council on Feb. 5 and 6 to vote on Ukraine's accession request.

WTO membership will provide new export opportunities for Ukraine's industry, still saddled with Soviet-era plants, and its farmers, who cultivate some of the most fertile land in Europe.

Membership would not only allow Ukraine, which borders new EU members Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, to share the benefits of the multilateral trading system but would also give it significant leverage over Russia.

Once Ukraine has joined the WTO it will be able to set conditions for Russia's own accession as the WTO operates by consensus of all its members. Georgia, which has a series of political and economic disputes with Moscow, is using its membership to hold up Russia's accession.

Ukraine had completed negotiations with the WTO as a group, but WTO accession rules required it to reach a bilateral agreement with any member that sought it, from which all other members benefit.

Differences with the EU about export duties were the last remaining hurdle, with Brussels seeking a guarantee from Ukraine to reduce them, not just a declaration of intent.

The EU was particularly concerned about export duties on nonferrous metals, which Brussels argued constituted an effective subsidy for domestic metallurgy plants.

The EU also wanted guarantees that Ukraine would not circumvent the restrictions on export duties by introducing measures with the equivalent effect, such as taxes or license fees.

The EU has said Ukraine's WTO membership will allow for the negotiation of a free trade agreement with the bloc.

"The success of these negotiations is an important step toward forming an expanded free trade zone with the EU in the future," Nemyrya said at a Cabinet meeting in Kiev on Thursday, Interfax reported.

WTO membership takes effect only when it has been ratified by the acceding country, which has six months from approval to do so.

AP, Reuters, MT