Gordeyev Urges WTO to Ease Rules on Agriculture Products

Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev on Friday called for "special conditions" for food and agriculture products within the World Trade Organization, saying they would help Russia modernize.

Protecting the world's food supply is as important as energy security, and agriculture should not be considered just a "traded good," Gordeyev said in Berlin.

Russia, the world's third-largest wheat exporter, needs significant investments to modernize farms, including access to funds and credit, he said.

In recent months, many countries have put aside considerations of global trading regulations, including subsidies for industries, to save their economies, Gordeyev said. "Perhaps it's a bold of me to say, but it seems like most countries have forgotten the WTO rules and are doing what is in their best interests economically," he said.

Moscow has been negotiating to join the Geneva-based trade body for more than 15 years, but disputes over Russian tariffs — most recently, threatened duties on timber and increased levies on imported cars — have delayed talks.

Subsidies for farmers, which make up about 40 percent of the European Union's annual budget, are acceptable instruments to support agriculture as long as they are "fair," he said. Supporting farming helps a country's environment and maintains traditions that go beyond economic issues, he said.

Russia imports about 10 times more agricultural products from the EU than it exports, a disparity caused by differences in subsidies levels for farmers in the two regions, he said. Food is Russia's third-largest export industry, after energy and military equipment.

On Saturday, Gordeyev told reporters that "Russia has gone through virtually all of the necessary procedures" and should join the WTO in 2009, Interfax reported.