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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

WTO Entry Priority No. 1, Kudrin Tells G-7

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ROME — Russia, invited as observer to a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrial nations, wasted no effort Saturday to convince foreign officials the country should become a full trading partner.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin spent two days in bilateral talks in Rome restoring the country's international image, shattered after the 1998 financial crisis when it defaulted on billions of dollars in domestic debt.

Kudrin said he had informed the G-7 finance ministers about Russia's progress in structural reforms and fighting money laundering and tried to win their support in speeding up entry to the World Trade Organization, a key for future investments.

"Accession to the WTO is the most important thing for us now. … It should be quick, but should not hurt our interests," Kudrin, who is also a deputy prime minister, told reporters on the sidelines of the G-7 finance ministers' meeting.

Moscow, which aims to get international consent on joining the multilateral trading system by the end of this year, needs the support of the world's richest countries after protracted talks stalled last week over the requirements of WTO members.

Russian officials have said the WTO demanded that Russia should adjust foreign trade legislation to WTO standards before further talks could proceed, as well as cut state subsidies in agriculture and remove tariff barriers to imports.

Moscow says it needs a long transitional period to bring its laws up to world standards, but argues this should not hinder accession to the WTO. That is because other countries, which have recently joined the WTO, had been given such a chance.

Kudrin said senior officials from Italy, which currently chairs the G-7, backed Russia's request for the transitional period as reasonable. U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill had also promised to discuss the issue in detail when he goes to Russia at the end of July, they said.

"We hope the problem will be resolved after the U.S. top officials' visit to Russia," said a source at the Russian delegation, invited to attend Saturday's meeting.

He said Commerce Secretary Don Evans and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice would join O'Neill and that Moscow aimed to put the WTO accession issue high on the agenda.

"O'Neill has supported Russia's drive to join the WTO as soon as possible," the source said.

Russia launched a bid to become part of the WTO in 1993 and hoped for quick accession.

President Vladimir Putin has said entry to the WTO is a top priority for his administration and set the end of 2001 as the deadline for completing all preparations to join the club. However, despite international support for Russian membership, negotiations to enter the global trading bloc are often a painful process, with China battling for years to join.

Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti said the G-7 — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, all of which are among Moscow's major creditors — had agreed that Russia's economic outlook was fundamentally positive as it was boosted by oil prices.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov painted a rosy picture of political stability and a resurgent economy, driven by increasing domestic demand and investment.

Kudrin said gross domestic product would grow by more than 5 percent this year, up from the original official target of 4 percent. GDP was up 8.3 percent in 2000, a post-Soviet record.

Analysts have said rapidly rising inflation is a major threat to Russia's economic growth.

Inflation hit 12.7 percent in the first half of this year compared with 9.5 percent in the same period a year ago, beating the government's original 12 percent forecast for the whole of 2001. Kudrin said the government would take urgent measures to combat inflation.