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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gref Upbeat on Georgia WTO Deal

APGref, flanked by Matviyenko, speaking during a session on Russia at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Saturday.
Talks with Georgia, the only country still refusing to sign a bilateral deal with Russia on its accession to the World Trade Organization, have been encouraging, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said Friday.

"We have not disposed of all claims," Gref said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "We have conducted quite positive negotiations and outlined prospects to make our positions closer. We see obvious progress."

Russia will work hard to join the WTO this year, Gref said. The WTO talks between Russia and Georgia are now stuck on just one issue, the Russian customs checkpoints in Georgia's breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a spokeswoman for the Economic Development and Trade Ministry said Friday.

Marika Gabuniya, director of the foreign trade department at Georgia's Economics Ministry, confirmed that the countries were focused on trying to fix the checkpoints issue. Georgia will agree to Russia joining the WTO as soon as Russia agrees to Georgian officials being present at the customs checkpoints, she said.

The lack of Georgian customs officers is the "biggest problem," Gabuniya said by telephone from Tbilisi. "We have to sit down at the negotiating table and resolve it."

The latest round of negotiations took place in Geneva on Wednesday, and the next meeting is scheduled for late February, an Economic Development and Trade Ministry spokeswoman said.

Russia banned imports of Georgian wine and mineral water last spring, saying they were of substandard quality. Georgia would seek the lifting of those bans during the next stage of talks on Russia's accession, Gabuniya said.

In the latest spat between the two neighbors, Georgia and the United States last week announced that Tbilisi had caught a Russian citizen who attempted to sell weapons-grade uranium in Georgia. Russian officials called the arrest a provocation.

Striking a conciliatory note, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli said Friday that Georgia was hoping to cooperate with Russia on nonproliferation, but "not trying to politicize the issue," Interfax reported.

Relations dipped sharply last fall after Georgia detained four Russian military officers on suspicion of espionage. Russia responded by deporting several hundred Georgians, evacuating its citizens and diplomats from the country and cutting transport and postal links.

Last week, Moscow made an effort to mend ties by returning its ambassador to Tbilisi. In another sign that ties are improving, Russia's chief epidemiologist, Gennady Onishchenko, hinted on Tuesday that Georgian mineral water imports could be resumed.

The head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on Friday called for early Russian entry into the WTO.

"It is very important that they join WTO now as quickly as possible," EBRD president Jean Lemierre said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, Reuters reported.