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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

WTO Membership Seen in 2006

VedomostiEconomic Development and Trade Minister German Gref
Russia is on track to enter the World Trade Organization in 2006, top government officials said Wednesday, but in the meantime they want to see a number of contentious issues resolved in the country's favor.

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref told reporters that Russia plans to wrap up negotiations on WTO entry by the end of 2004, and after that it may take another 18 months to conclude formalities.

WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said last month that the organization aims to include Russia by the end of next year, in time for Moscow to participate in the current Doha round of trade talks, due to close in January 2005.

"We are in for a hot period of negotiations this fall," Gref said.

Disputes over Russia's domestic energy prices and agriculture policies have delayed the decade-long attempt to enter the 146-member WTO. Before these hurdles, Moscow had aimed for entry in 2003.

European Union countries want Russia to raise its low domestic prices for natural gas and electricity, saying they give Russian companies an unfair edge over foreign competitors.

Also, a high-profile fight over caps on Russia's imports of U.S. poultry helped prompt the WTO to question how much protection it should allow Russia to keep in the agriculture sector.

Gref said a whole range of diplomatic, legal and political efforts will have to be deployed to overcome such issues.

Gref has said that more than 70 percent of the original issues on the agenda for negotiations had been squared away, yet sticking points remain in bilateral negotiations with partners like the United States, the European Union and China.

There are certain areas "where we cannot allow ourselves to concede to the position of our partners," Gref said.

On agriculture, Maxim Medvedkov, the country's lead negotiator and a deputy of Gref's, said Russia will not back down from keeping state support near the current level of some $13 billion per year.

As for coordinating energy pricing, Medvedkov said, Russia is far from consensus with its Western interlocutors, who had never had to grapple with issues of the same magnitude.

"None of the countries has assumed liabilities on reform [of natural monopolies]," Medvedkov said, adding that domestic reforms would "continue within the time frame and format that are necessary."

Besides agriculture and energy, the banking, securities, insurance and telecommunications sectors, as well as import duties on cars and aircraft, have remained troublesome.

Medvedkov also said Russia is not prepared to fully open up the banking and insurance sectors to foreigners.

But whatever the cost of joining, they will be outweighed by the benefits of membership, Gref said, pointing to the investment boom that followed on the heels of China's WTO entry.

The next meeting of the WTO working group will take place in October, Medvedkov said.