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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's OECD Bid Comes as Surprise

PARIS -- Russia surprised industrial powers with an application, announced Tuesday, to join the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Franz Vranitsky, federal chancellor of Austria and chairman of the 27-nation OECD annual meeting here, said he welcomed the decision and saw it as a political message that Russia was committed to democracy and free trade.

He said Russia's inclusion in the traditionally Western-dominated body would contribute to world peace and stability.

But some officials said the application confronted the OECD with questions about its future shape and role.

"We welcome the application for OECD membership ... as an important political signal on continuing the democratic and economic reform process and as a clear move by the largest country in the world toward democracy and a free market economy," Vranitsky told a news conference.

Although the OECD and Russia had tentatively explored admitting Russia, the timing of the application was unexpected, Vranitsky said.

It comes amid the Russian election campaign in which President Boris Yeltsin, who is favored by Western powers, is locked in battle with Communist contender Gennady Zyuganov.

"We trust that this commitment will hold through after the upcoming presidential elections in Russia," Vranitsky said.

The request, which also includes applications to join the OECD's International Energy Agency and Nuclear Energy Agency, was conveyed in a letter from Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to OECD Secretary-General Jean-Claude Paye on Monday evening, the organization said.

Vranitsky said Russia would have to make economic and legal reforms to qualify for membership and said it was too early to say how long it would be before it could join.

Russia will have to conform to OECD norms on capital flows, foreign land ownership and investment and labor laws among other issues, Vranitsky said.

Of former east bloc countries, the Czech Republic and Hungary already have jointed the organization, with Poland next in line.

OECD finance, trade and other ministers were briefed on the request at an opening session Tuesday of two-day annual talks which will in part seek to map out the organization's future. A Russian delegation is to meet with ministers Wednesday.

Though member countries' ministers at this week's talks intend to focus on mass unemployment and economic prospects, diplomats Tuesday almost immediately began wrangling behind the scenes as the United States tried to head off demands from other big players for a statement explicitly discouraging unilateral trade measures.

Japan, Canada and many Europeans are worried that Washington's threat to impose stiff trade sanctions against China in a copyright piracy feud and its tightening of sanctions against Cuba threaten efforts to resolve free-trade issues worldwide on a multilateral basis.

In an early draft of a communique, the United States is opposing a proposal from Japan, the European Commission, France and Spain calling for multilateral solutions and reprimanding unilateral action.

European Union trade officials said they would take a tough European line with the Americans and ask Washington to "stand up and be counted."