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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moldova Joins WTO as Other Soviet States Lag

GENEVA — The former Soviet republic of Moldova has become a full member of the World Trade Organization, taking the total of countries in the body to 142, officials said.

Moldova's entry Friday also takes to six the number of independent states emerging from the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union to join the WTO — which the Soviet Communist Party scorned, like anti-globalization groups today, as a "tool of capitalists."

But trade diplomats said the three states that were the industrial and agricultural powerhouses of the 15-republic Soviet state — Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan — were likely to have to wait a few more years before they got in.

Moldova, where the Communist Party recently regained power in elections after a decade in opposition following the collapse of the Soviet empire, was admitted automatically 30 days after it had confirmed ratification of its entry terms.

Negotiation on that package with Moldova, sandwiched between Romania to the west and Ukraine to the east, lasted for eight years.

Officials of the new administration in the capital, Chisinau, say they will honor the accord and play an active part in the WTO.

Of the remaining nine former Soviet republics still outside the global trade body, all but the autocratic administration of Turkmenistan in Central Asia have applied to join and are engaged in negotiations.

They have to reach agreement with all individual WTO members who want bilateral negotiations, and with the organization's membership collectively, on how far they will open their markets for goods and services to foreign suppliers once they are in.

In negotiations so far, all of them, especially Russia, have found it difficult to convince trading partners already in the WTO that they can enforce new free market legislation even when their parliaments have adopted it.

Diplomats say the small size of the economies of the six who have joined — Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, as well as Moldova — reduced the importance of this problem and eased negotiations.

But it looms as a major barrier for most of the remaining eight applicants — which also include Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus and Uzbekistan.

Russia's negotiations stalled recently when it refused to discuss draft laws relating to trade with WTO members — including the European Union and the United States.

Both major trading powers, as well as other key countries in the 5-1/2-year-old WTO, say regularly they want Russia in the body. But they also insist entry has to be on carefully and painstakingly negotiated terms.

Many trade diplomats following the negotiations say Moscow has appeared to assume that political support for its membership means negotiators in Geneva will be instructed to drop insisting on tough terms, which is far from the case.

According to Geneva trade envoys, the Russian talks are unlikely to resume before the start of next year, even though President Vladimir Putin has said he wants his country to be in before the end of this year.