Ukraine's Parliament Clears Last Hurdle to WTO Entry

KIEV -- Ukraine edged closer to its long-sought aim of joining the World Trade Organization on Wednesday when its parliament approved the final piece of legislation required for membership.

A law lifting a ban on scrap-metal exports and gradually reducing customs duties over six years secured 363 votes, easily clearing a majority in the 450-seat assembly.

The country has been seeking entry in the WTO, for more than 13 years.

Pro-Western Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko had hoped Ukraine would join in his first year in office, in 2005, but now has his sights set on the first quarter of 2007.

"By completing its examination of this bill, the parliament has finished the process of considering legislation required for joining the World Trade Organization," Petro Poroshenko, head of the budget committee and an ally of Yushchenko's, told deputies.

He hoped "effective negotiations" by Ukrainian officials would lead quickly to a WTO decision on membership. A senior adviser to the president said a delegation would fly to Geneva to ensure, with WTO officials, that all legislation was in order.

"Another round of talks is planned in January," said Oleksander Shlapak, head of the presidential administration's socioeconomic department.

Russia's prime minister, Mikhail Fradkov, has appealed to Ukraine to coordinate the two membership bids, but officials in Kiev have made no special effort to do so. Some groups in the Ukrainian parliament, fearing for national producers, had long resisted attempts to pass the required legislation.

But both Yushchenko and Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich agreed to make WTO membership a political priority.