WTO: Russia Could Join in a Year

OSLO, Norway -- World Trade Organization chief Mike Moore said Tuesday that Russia could be ready to join the global trade club within a year, following China's entry last month.

In a speech to a business conference in Oslo, WTO Director General Moore also took a swipe at farm subsidies by rich nations, but said he was more optimistic than ever about creating a stable global economy built on free trade.

"Russia is within our reach as a new member within a year," he said. "We have a core group of ministers who have the willpower, the horsepower and the firepower to make this happen."

Russia, the largest economy that is not yet a member of the 144-nation world trade body, has said it is preparing for the next stage of talks and draft laws to bring its trade practices into line with WTO rules go before parliament early this year.

Tough WTO negotiations are expected over high Russian agricultural subsidies in particular, officials have said.

A few dozen protesters denounced globalization in the snow outside the hotel where Moore was speaking, saying it "killed democracy". Moscow once denounced the WTO's predecessor as an "instrument of imperialist exploitation."

Moore has said Russia, which says WTO membership is a high priority, would be able to sit at the table as a full member by the next ministerial conference, due in the middle of 2003.

He hailed the new round of WTO talks, which start this year and aim to cut farm subsidies, industrial tariffs and a range of other barriers to trade.

"I'm more optimistic now about the prospects of creating a stable and just and fully global economy than I've ever been," Moore said.

China's entry to the WTO disproved suggestions that clashes of civilizations meant that trade liberalization was a blind alley for the world economy, Moore said.

"It's proof that we've rediscovered the common advantages of trading together in a fair, open and properly negotiated system," he said.

But he said rich nations should scrap farm subsidies, which in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations totaled about $1 billion a day.

"For many developing countries the agricultural negotiations are about development. Most people have recognized that for years these policies of subsidies are unsustainable," he said.

"Abolishing those subsidies would be worth eight times more than all the debt relief offered so far."