Saudi Arabia Approves Russia's WTO Accession Bid

Saudi Arabia has given its consent for Russia to become a member of the World Trade Organization by signing a bilateral accession deal in Riyadh, the Economic Development Ministry said Tuesday.

"Saudi Arabia has become the 60th WTO member with whom we have completed negotiations on market access," the ministry said in a statement.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin signed the agreement with Saudi Commerce and Industry Minister Abdullah ibn Ahmed Zainal Alireza, the statement added.

The ministry said Saudi Arabia was the last WTO member with whom Russia held bilateral negotiations on market access, adding that the agreement opened the way for completion of multilateral negotiations.

Georgia withdrew its signature under a bilateral agreement with Russia in protest over a decree on links with its breakaway regions, while neighboring Ukraine, which joined the WTO this month, has not yet started talks with Russia.

"Georgia's demands are not linked to market access. Ukraine has not started market access negotiations," the Economic Development Ministry said.

It added that Russia was due to hold the next round of talks with the WTO accession working group on June 16.

The ministry said the agreement covered Saudi exports of dates, cement, oil and oil products, fertilizers, plastics, carpets, glass and cables.

Russia, the world's biggest economy outside the WTO, has sought to join the Geneva-based trade arbiter for almost 15 years. It has yet to agree on the level of agricultural subsidies and settle a timber duty dispute in multinational talks.

The country raised export duties for unprocessed timber in July to shore up domestic production and is planning further increases. Countries including Finland and Sweden have urged the EU to press Russia on the issue, saying it is reneging on promises to refrain from raising duties during WTO negotiations.

"The agreement with Saudi Arabia is a very important step in completing negotiations," said Yaroslav Lissovolik, co-head of equity research at Deutsche Bank in Moscow. This makes it possible for Russia to join the WTO at the end of this year or the beginning of 2009, he said.

Reuters, Bloomberg