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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Says Overflight Fees Linked to WTO Bid

LUXEMBOURG -- European Union transport ministers told Russia on Thursday it must phase out the fees it charges airlines to fly over Siberia before it succeeds in a bid to join the World Trade Organization.

European airlines pay more than $300 million a year in charges to fly over Siberia. Russia has said it will stop the fees by the end of 2013 but the EU wants reductions in the charges before that.

Susanna Huovinen, transport minister of Finland, which holds the EU presidency, said her EU counterparts wanted the phase-out to be linked with Moscow's WTO aspirations.

But she declined to say how or whether the ministers could enforce that wish.

The EU has already granted its support for Russia's accession to the Geneva-based body but has yet to give its final blessing and trade officials have previously said the Siberia issue is a potential sticking point.

"We set the target that the WTO membership ... should not be achieved unless we had an agreement on these Siberian overflight charges," Huovinen told a news conference during a meeting of EU transport ministers in Luxembourg. "We want this to happen before they ... can be a member of the WTO."

The executive European Commission is conducting talks with Moscow over the issue.

Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said Russia had agreed to link fees from 2014 to the cost of air traffic control.

He said the EU also wanted Russian assurance that the number of flights over Siberia could increase in the future.