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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rice Rebuffs Putin's WTO Charges

Itar-TassEconomic Development and Trade Minister German Gref
BERLIN -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday rejected President Vladimir Putin's assertion that Washington was hampering Russian efforts to negotiate entry to the World Trade Organization.

"We would like to see Russia a member of the WTO, but the agreement has to conform to WTO rules and it has to be something that will pass congressional scrutiny and conforms to international rules," Rice told reporters en route to Berlin.

The United States has concerns over poultry and financial services, she said. "I don't think this is an issue of impeding. I think this is an issue of negotiation and trying to get to an outcome that I think both presidents would like to have, which is Russia having accession to the WTO."

Putin said Wednesday that the United States was making new demands of the Russians, which were a setback in the lengthy process of negotiating entry to the world trade body.

"We have received a list of questions from our American colleagues requiring additional agreements that we considered settled long ago," Putin told a Kremlin meeting with Russian business leaders. The U.S. move "artificially pushes back the course of the negotiating process," he added.

But Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said Thursday that negotiations with the United States on WTO accession could be concluded within a month, Interfax reported.

"A tense negotiation process is going on. But despite this, there is optimism that within a month, or maximum a month and a half, we will find a solution to all the remaining questions," Gref told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.

Russia, the largest economy outside the WTO, has been in talks to enter the 149-member body for 13 years but still needs to sign bilateral deals with the United States, Australia and Colombia.

Gref said U.S. President George W. Bush had sent a letter to Putin outlining 10 issues that needed to be resolved before Russia's accession to the WTO.

At talks in Geneva last week, some of the questions were lifted, though five or six issues remain, including agriculture and financial services, Gref said. "Problem No. 1 remains financial services," he said.

Russian negotiators, who face a powerful domestic lobby opposed to making major concessions to gain WTO entry, are wary of opening up the country's infant financial sector to the winds of international competition.

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, also reacting to Putin's remarks, said in a statement Wednesday that the issues still to be resolved before Russia could join the WTO "are not new problems, and they are not dissimilar to those issues addressed by others who have acceded to the WTO."

Gref said U.S. and Russian negotiators would have a video conference in April and that he might meet Portman for talks in April or May.