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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Upbeat on WTO Talks

VedomostiMaxim Medvedkov
GENEVA -- Russia's efforts to join the World Trade Organization by the end of the year are on course, Moscow's chief negotiator said Thursday.

Following two days of meetings at WTO's Geneva headquarters, Maxim Medvedkov said he believed the talks, which have been dragging on for a decade, could be concluded by December, when the WTO's 148 current members gather for a summit in Hong Kong.

"The meetings this week have demonstrated that we are able to achieve this goal," Medvedkov told reporters. "I'm not excluding that we can achieve this by the end of this year."

Medvedkov said his country's chances have been boosted by a series of trade accords with key members of WTO.

Iceland's Ambassador Stefan Haukur Johannesson, who heads the WTO committee steering Russia's membership talks, was also upbeat. "I think we're on a good track," he said.

The earliest date for membership would be January 2006, following approval at the Hong Kong summit.

Key sticking points have included limits on foreign ownership in the telecommunications and life insurance businesses.

Medvedkov said Russia wants to maintain rules stopping foreign financial firms from opening branches in Russia -- rather than subsidiaries that are corporate entities in their own right.

However, Russia is prepared to make concessions in the communications sector, ending the monopoly of the country's state-owned telecommunications company, he said.

Many WTO members also dislike Russia's energy price subsidies, which competitors say give Russian businesses an unfair advantage, as well as tariffs to protect farmers and aircraft makers.

Concerns also have focused on what critics say are lax rules on counterfeiting and piracy, lack of enforcement of data protection laws and the poor protection of commercial secrets.

Each WTO member has the right to seek its own trade deal before approving membership.

Russia has signed an agreement with the European Union -- its main trade partner -- and completed talks on an accord with China. It has clinched around 27 other deals, said Medvedkov. He said had made "substantial progress" in talks with Japan.

Russia is still negotiating with the United States. Meeting in Switzerland last month, U.S. trade chief Robert Zoellick and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said it will likely take most of the year to reach an accord.

 U.S. President George W. Bush could use Russia's WTO bid as leverage to avert a government takeover of Yukos, Republican Senator Richard Lugar said Thursday, Reuters reported.

Lugar told a panel hearing on Yukos that Bush should raise such concerns when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week.

"Perhaps President Bush will discover that President Putin has much more interest in the WTO or in other things than has been apparent," Lugar said. "Perhaps there is leverage here."