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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Rules Out Joining WTO in '04

VedomostiMaxim Medvedkov
Russia has given up hope of joining the World Trade Organization this year, its chief negotiator said Monday.

Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Maxim Medvedkov said that at the current pace of negotiations, which are deadlocked over energy issues, it would be at least a year before Russia could join the global trade body -- but it might be much longer.

"A conservative forecast is when I retire," Interfax quoted Medvedkov as saying after returning from accession talks at WTO headquarters in Geneva.

"We believed in 2003 that in 2004 we would complete the negotiating process, and in 1996 we thought that we would complete it in 1997 -- neither variants happened," Medvedkov said.

European opposition to Russia's subsidized domestic gas and electricity prices is the major sticking point, Medvedkov said.

Russia wants to free domestic energy prices only gradually so as not to stoke inflation and hamper economic growth, an issue it says is beyond the prerequisites of WTO entry.

The European Union, however, which depends on Russia for more than a quarter of its natural gas, is demanding increased competition for Gazprom, which has a monopoly on exports to Europe.

"A look at the map shows that Russia is the leading gas supplier and that the EU is the leading gas consumer and we cannot live without each other," Medvedkov said. "Perhaps the WTO is not the best place to resolve the issue."

He added, however, that there was still hope of resolving the energy issue as early as next month.

Nearly all other issues have been resolved, he said, except for some minor disagreements regarding diamond imports and sanitary inspections of foodstuffs.

Medvedkov said it is essential for the economy that the government subsidize some industries, such as aircraft building, and that at the next negotiating session in Geneva in June the Russian side will try "to prove" this to Europe.

"We will never sign an agreement under which we reject subsidies and eliminate customs duties for [foreign] aircraft," he said.

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref will try to make some headway on the issue when his EU counterpart Pascal Lamy comes to Moscow later this month, he said.