EU Promises to Smooth Russia's Path to WTO

MTFrom left, de Laboulaye, Franco and Likhachyov arriving for a news conference at Interfax's offices on Tuesday.
European Union officials called last week's Nice summit between Russia and the European Union constructive and said talks would resume to draw up a "road map" to help Russia join the World Trade Organization.

President Dmitry Medvedev met President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, which currently holds the EU presidency, and other EU officials for talks in the south of France on Friday.

Talks between the two sides on a new partnership and cooperation agreement will resume in early December, probably on Dec. 2, Marc Franco, head of the EU delegation to Russia, said at a news conference Tuesday.

"We decided to create a kind of road map listing the measures that need to be taken quickly before Russia joins the WTO," Franco said.

Georgia and Ukraine are unlikely to veto Russia's ascension to the WTO, although theoretically the vote of only one member could block its entry, Franco said.

"I don't think it's a real danger. In the history of the European Union, it has never happened," Franco said. "I'm sure that if the United States and Europe and other countries sincerely support such a major commercial and trading nation as Russia joining the WTO, then neither Ukraine nor Georgia will be able to prevent the entry."

Medvedev "emphasized that joining the WTO is still a very important priority in Russian politics," Franco said.

European Commission officials will visit Russia in January and plan to have a meeting with Medvedev, he added.

In Brussels, the EU's trade chief said plans by Russia to increase import duties could harm its bid to join the WTO. "Such a move would be contrary to the spirit of the G20 declaration, and it would not help the WTO accession process, which has just gained momentum following the recent EU-Russia summit," Peter Power, spokesman for EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton, said on her behalf, Reuters reported.

The summit's talks on trade concentrated on the issue of raising export duties on certain timber products. The EU reacted "positively" to Russia's decision to postpone raising export duties for nine to 12 months, Franco said.

The increase would put Finnish and Swedish industries in a "very complex situation" and possibly force closures, he said. He added that it contravened a treaty signed in 2004.

As for energy issues, Franco spoke of the EU and Russia as "dependent on each other."

He said politicians discussed the plans for a Nord Stream gas pipeline, which he called "an important project for Europe."

The chairman of the Federation Chamber's International Affairs Committee, Vasily Likhachyov, said at the news conference that the talks were held in a "working" atmosphere and that the summit marked the start of a new era.

Although the August conflict in Georgia has dominated relations between Russia and the EU, the summit largely steered clear of this topic, the officials said.

"We consider that Russia has carried out most of the obligations which it took on. Now nothing is stopping us renewing the talks, which weren't stopped but postponed," said France's ambassador to Russia, Stanislas de Laboulaye.

Medvedev and Sarkozy discussed "problem zones," including the Georgian village of Perevi, de Laboulaye said, adding that he could give no details. Russian troops remain stationed at a checkpoint in the village near the border with Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Sarkozy nevertheless stressed that he does not agree with Russia's position on South Ossetia and Abkhazia, de Laboulaye said.

"The Nice summit from the point of view of the Georgian topic did not bring any surprises," Likhachyov said. He emphasized that Russia's position is that its actions were based on international law.

On Tuesday, Russian and Georgian officials started talks in Geneva on the Georgia conflict. De Laboulaye said the talks would discuss stability in the region and migration issues.