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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

WTO Entry Talks Near Final Lap

ReutersForeign Minister Igor Ivanov, center, shaking hands with Zoellick on Friday while U.S Ambassador Alexander Vershbow looks on.
A top U.S. trade envoy said Saturday that talks on Russian membership in the World Trade Organization could reach the final stretch by early next year, despite several obstacles the government must still overcome, news reports said.

Trade Representative Robert Zoellick held high-level talks Friday and Saturday focusing on Russia's six-year-old efforts to join the 142-nation WTO.

At the end of the visit, he said talks on Russian membership could reach "the final stage" in early 2002, Interfax and Itar-Tass reported.

Zoellick noted "serious progress that has recently been achieved by Russia in reforming its economy and developing its social sphere," the Russian government's press service said in a statement after his meeting Saturday with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. The statement did not elaborate.

On Friday, Zoellick said he had assured Russian officials that the country was getting equal treatment in its efforts to enter the world trade club and that the United States and European Union wanted to push the process along.

"We would like to get Russia into the WTO as soon as we can," Zoellick said. "To do that Russia has to conform to the WTO rules."

Zoellick said he had spoken to European Union Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy and talked about making a draft working-party report on Russia's accession in early 2002.

The final report, which will be drawn up by the WTO's secretariat, will eventually be the document on which Russia's entry into the global trade body is based.

Zoellick was quoted as saying that the United States would assist in starting the processing of documents necessary for Russia's accession in January next year.

He also said Russia would have to conclude its negotiations with the WTO's 142 member states by this point.

However, Zoellick warned that the government must overcome a "mass of practical barriers." The report did not say what obstacles.

The United States has long urged Russia to lift import barriers used to prop up inefficient state-run enterprises and other trade restrictions.

One obstacle to WTO membership is Washington's refusal to recognize Russia as a market economy. The U.S. Department of Commerce on Thursday said it had received the Russian petition to be included in the list of market economies worldwide.

Zoellick promised Saturday that the United States would soon consider the petition, the Russian government statement said.

Zoellick thanked the Kremlin for backing Washington's campaign against terrorism, but insisted that U.S. support for Russian WTO membership should not be seen as a reward for its backing of the United States after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

Until recently, the United States had been more cautious in its support of eventual Russian membership in the WTO, maintaining the country needed deeper economic reforms.

During his visit, which ended Saturday, Zoellick also met with Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov.

(Reuters, AP)