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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Red Shadow Looms Over WTO Bid

GENEVA -- Russia on Friday pressed its bid for admission to the World Trade Organization, but diplomats said the talks were overshadowed by the possible return to power in Moscow of old-style Communists next month.

First Deputy Foreign Trade Minister Georgy Gabunya told a session of a WTO working party studying Russia's two-year-old membership application that his country was dynamically pursuing economic reform.

"The [Russian] government has steadily continued its course toward achieving macroeconomic stability and forming the basis for sustainable growth in conditions of a market economy," Gabunya declared.

He said Moscow had also pressed ahead rapidly with liberalizing the old state-controlled system of foreign trade, which began to dissolve just before the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, to conform to WTO open-trade rules.

But key trade envoys said although Gabunya and his team from key Moscow ministries were being given a full and sympathetic hearing, there was clear concern that a Communist victory in the June presidential poll would make their efforts pointless.

"With the sort of program [Communist Party leader Gennady] Zyuganov has just announced, there is obviously little chance we could bring them in, even if they still wanted to join," one senior diplomat said.

Another envoy added, "We have to continue with the process of studying their application, and we certainly want them in. A WTO without a potentially huge economic power like Russia would obviously be the poorer.

"But at the back of all our minds is that the Communists could soon be back and this whole exercise will be dropped."

Earlier this week the Russian Communist Party, whose standing in opinion polls suggests Zyuganov could well replace President Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin after the vote, unveiled its long-awaited blueprint for the economy.

The program provides for a restoration of the leading role of the state in all economic activity, a wider range of subsidies for industry and agriculture, restrictions on private property and protectionist policies in foreign trade.

Analysts said that if effected the blueprint would essentially recreate the economic system of the old Soviet Union -- which for nearly five decades scorned the GATT, the WTO's predecessor, as "a capitalist club."

In his opening address to the working party Thursday, Gabunya implicitly appealed to WTO members -- who now number 121 -- to help give a "powerful momentum" with the election in view to his country's bid for admission.

"It is very much awaited in Russia, particularly at present," he said, according to a Russian text of his speech.

"And it is very important, for several reasons, to demonstrate that the negotiations ... are under way in a constructive atmosphere," he said.