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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Few Hurdles Remain on the Way to WTO

VedomostiMaxim Medvedkov
Only seven countries remain that need to bless Russia's application for World Trade Organization membership, the country's top trade negotiator said Monday.

"Probably by the end of the year we will be able to solve all issues without causing problems to any sectors of the Russian economy," Maxim Medvedkov said.

The main sticking points in bilateral negotiations with trade partners such as the United States and Australia are access to financial services and import duties on planes, sugar and meat, he said, speaking at a meeting organized by the International Trade Center, a Geneva-based organization that provides information on WTO membership to transitional economies.

Joining the global trading club requires candidate countries to negotiate individually with each member nation.

Russia has been negotiating to join the trade body, which now has 148 members, since 1995.

Moscow still has to strike deals with the United States, Canada, Australia, El Salvador, Colombia, the Philippines and Malaysia, said Yury Afanasyev, the top trade official in charge of WTO accession talks at the Russian mission in Geneva.

While it is in the country's best interest to join the WTO, Medvedkov said that some countries were trying to extract a price for membership that Moscow was not prepared to pay.

In the case of Colombia and Australia, for example, talks are hung up on sugar, Medvedkov said, with the two countries demanding that Moscow significantly lower tariffs. The countries sell very little sugar to Russia, he said, but Russia's domestic sugar industry would be hit hard if tariffs were reduced.

At the meeting with Medvedkov, representatives of various sectors voiced concern over Russia's WTO membership. The textile industry complained that it had no input on the accession talks, while the country's truckers said joining the WTO would likely hurt their business.

Russian businessmen are still largely in the dark over how WTO rules will affect them, said Ramamurti Badrinath, a senior ITC official.

"The knowledge is not there," he said, adding that interest "is not at the highest level."

The government is busy negotiating and is not providing businesses with information on the pros and cons of membership, Badrinath said.

Viktor Semyonov, the chairman of the agricultural and industrial entrepreneurship committee at the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said he was concerned that there were not enough experts nationwide to explain to businesses what impact WTO membership would have on them.

The WTO accession process has become more difficult than in the past because candidate countries have to meet additional entry conditions, Medvedkov said.

"Some of these extra obligations are rather innocent, ... while others are pretty dangerous, as it is hard to predict the economic repercussions of applying these rules," he said. Medvedkov complained that entry conditions for Ukraine, which is also seeking to join the WTO, were less stringent than those for Russia.

"We are seeing the process of erosion of multilateral WTO rules," Medvedkov said, without elaborating.