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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

WTO Says Russia Is Making Fast Progress

APWTO chief Mike Moore
GENEVA -- World Trade Organization head Mike Moore said Thursday that Russia is rapidly nearing entry to the WTO and could become a member by the spring or early summer of 2003.

"Russia is much closer [to joining] than people think. We could surprise ourselves," Moore told a conference of editors. "I believe it can be done by May or June next year if everything goes right. ... President [Vladimir] Putin is very engaged on the issue and has some top-class people working to make sure it happens."

Moore was speaking as a Russian delegation was holding talks with trade diplomats from many of the current 144 members of the WTO in the latest round of negotiations since Moscow applied to join the global trading club in 1993.

Trade officials and envoys said the talks were going well, although agriculture remained a major problem, with many WTO members insisting that more would have to be done to open up the still largely state-financed Russian farming sector.

Earlier this week, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told reporters during a visit to Geneva that there had been good progress in the negotiations with Russia. European Union officials have voiced similar views.

Over the past few months, Moore, a former New Zealand prime minister who steps down as WTO chief at the end of a three-year mandate at the end of August, has been increasingly optimistic about Russia's membership prospects.

Entry would mean a faster opening to foreign goods and services and would ensure Russian products equal access to outside markets.

But to get to that point, Russia has to satisfy all major trading partners in bilateral as well as multilateral talks that it will be able to conform to WTO open-trading rules.

It then has to have the WTO's ruling General Council, grouping all members, and then the State Duma approve an accession package -- effectively a treaty document -- detailing all the liberalization commitments that it will take on.

China, still under the rule of a communist party, became a WTO member in December after more than 15 years of tortuous negotiations. Other big economies still to join are Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Moore told journalists he realized there was some opposition in Russia, including among business circles, to economic openings that could undermine the position of what were effectively privatized monopolies.

But he said he saw a "window of opportunity" over the coming months, especially as a package of legislation that would bring Russia's import and export procedures and customs laws into line with WTO rules was due to go before the Duma.

Moore's stance was given implicit backing later by his appointed successor, former Thai Deputy Prime Minister Supachai Panitchpakdi, who takes over as WTO chief Sept. 1.

Speaking to reporters alongside Moore after an hourlong meeting at WTO headquarters, Supachai said he felt Russia should join as soon as possible -- although he was not sure how far Moscow had gone in creating the necessary legal framework.

"I'll bet you $100 that Russia will be in when Dr. Supachai is director-general," Moore declared with a grin.