EU Urges Russia to Join WTO

BRUSSELS -- The European Commission said Tuesday that it still believed it was right and possible for Russia to join the World Trade Organization, after Russian officials questioned the value of belonging to the trade body.

"It should hasten its efforts to join, but that is obviously an issue for Russia. There are a number of stumbling blocks but these can be overcome with the right political will," a spokesman for the EU executive told a regular news briefing.

EU support for Russian membership of the WTO is seen as crucial. There has been speculation that withdrawing that support could be a lever the West could use to apply pressure to Russia to ensure a full withdrawal of its troops from Georgia following the brief war there this month.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Monday that he saw no advantages to WTO membership and that Russia should freeze some commitments made during talks about entry to the WTO.

First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said Monday that he saw no prospect of joining the body within the coming year as initially targeted.

The EU spokesman said there were a number of "outstanding issues" the EU wanted to clear up with Russia, notably duties on Russian wood exports which are hurting EU paper makers.

"The situation is not easy. ... [We] believe Russia should be a member of the WTO ... and we will continue to work towards that end," he said.