Georgia Says It Wants to Review Its WTO Deal

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgia said Friday that it wanted to renegotiate a bilateral deal on Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization, accusing Moscow of discrimination against Georgian exports.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Russia had violated terms of the 2004 agreement in which Georgia gave its blessing for Russia's WTO bid. It accused Russia of taking "unfounded and discriminatory measures against Georgian exports."

Russia banned imports of Georgian wine and mineral water earlier this year, dealing a blow to the poor Caucasus republic's fragile economy. Tbilisi called the ban politically motivated.

Under WTO rules, each member has the right to seek its own bilateral market-access deal with a WTO candidate before approving that nation's membership.

The agreements negotiated by individual members are eventually consolidated so that all WTO nations trade with the new member under the same conditions.

The Georgian move could further slow Russia's efforts to join the 149-member global commerce body.

Russia, whose export-oriented industries stand to profit handsomely from the freer access to Western markets that WTO membership would bring, has been negotiating to join the WTO since 1994.

President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko criticized Georgia's move with sarcastic language, calling it "a good demonstration of the Russian saying, 'I'm a man of my word: I can give my word and I can take it back, too,'" Itar-Tass reported.

Itar-Tass quoted an unidentified Russian trade official as saying Moscow would look into whether Georgia could legally carry out its threat.

Russia's chief epidemiologist, Gennady Onishchenko, on Saturday defended the bans on Georgian and Moldovan wine, telling reporters in St. Petersburg that the WTO would "see Russia's reasons for banning imports of Georgian and Moldovan wine as valid," and added it was high time the ban was discussed by professionals and not politicians, Itar-Tass reported.

Onishchenko said Russia was studying Moldovan proposals for introducing quality control for its wine exports, but that Georgia had not made any such proposals.

"Unfortunately so far no measures have been taken. At least we don't know of any. It seems they are not interested in our market," he said.

Russia's relations with Georgia have steadily deteriorated since Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's election more than two years ago.

Saakashvili has sought to move his country away from Russia's influence and toward closer integration with the United States and the West. He frequently rails against Moscow, accusing it of interfering with Georgian affairs.