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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zubkov Says Russia Should Join WTO Soon

Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov on Saturday pressed U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization and called for the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a Soviet-era piece of legislation that has been a key obstacle to the country's WTO accession.

Zubkov's call came during a meeting with Rice and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the government press service said, Interfax reported. The press service gave no further details of the meeting, except to say that it covered bilateral relations and focused on trade and economic issues.

On Friday, WTO negotiator Maxim Medvedkov expressed hope that the country would join the body by year's end, but observers cast doubt on this timetable, citing the upcoming elections season as a likely obstacle to progress.

There are a plethora of outstanding disputes between Russia and WTO members, ranging from the European Union's concerns on energy supplies to Russia's yearlong economic blockade of Georgia, U.S. concerns over intellectual property rights and reluctance by the U.S. Congress to lift the Jackson-Vanik trade amendment.

Medvedkov told reporters at a briefing that a recent Cabinet shake-up would not impede progress on Russia's bid, which has been the subject of discussions for more than a decade.

But he conceded that the target could be missed. "We know that plans do not always come true, due to various reasons," Medvedkov said.

He said the government would amend some legislation to comply with WTO rules, mostly by year's end. Most of the legislation in question was related to intellectual property rights, he said.

The reshuffle saw the departure of German Gref, the economic development and trade minister widely credited with securing a bilateral deal with the United States last year. U.S. officials are still pressing for implementation of the conditions in that deal, including those on intellectual property rights.

Medvedkov said Friday that he did not feel that the change of ministers would affect the talks. Gref's successor, Elvira Nabiullina, "is actively getting involved in the work," he said.

The country still needs to conclude bilateral deals with Saudi Arabia and Georgia and a multilateral deal with all the WTO's 151 members. Medvedkov said he would start talks with Georgian officials in Geneva on Friday and with Saudi Arabia soon after those talks. He also said Russia would try to come up with a solution to Finnish and Swedish objections on Russian raw timber import duties in time for an Oct. 26 EU-Russia summit in Portugal.

A round of multilateral talks will start Oct. 22, Medvedkov said.

Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office, said U.S. officials did not plan to attend the Geneva talks this month. "There are some outstanding issues, but we are determined to work with Russia to resolve these issues. [The] timetable is up to them," Spicer said by telephone Friday.

Some companies said the elections season would likely delay Russia's accession. "There is a two-stage political cycle. The [State] Duma elections at the very least may affect the WTO legislation," Viktor Kramarenko, a spokesman for Procter & Gamble, said by telephone.