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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gref Insists Russia Is On Track for WTO

SINGAPORE -- Russia on Monday repudiated criticism from the European Union and United States that it was dragging its feet in talks on joining the World Trade Organization and said it still hoped to accede this year.

"As of today, we are fulfilling all the commitments that we have taken on," Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref told reporters in Singapore.

"I'm not sure whether we will be able to complete the accession process this year. There is a chance to make it on time, but I can't radiate certainty."

Gref spoke after the EU's ambassador to Moscow said Russia was failing to fulfill trade commitments and that its negotiators lacked urgency in the final, multilateral stage of the WTO entry process.

"We have heard a lot from our Russian partners that joining the WTO is a priority," Marc Franco told Kommersant in an interview. "But the way the negotiations are going and poor fulfillment of bilateral commitments raises doubts over whether Russia will become a member by the end of 2007."

Amid fanfare, Russia wrapped up WTO talks last November with the United States, completing a series of bilateral deals needed before negotiating a comprehensive deal with the 150-member WTO.

Moscow aims to complete the WTO accession process this year. Russia's $1 trillion economy is the largest outside the WTO, and investors say joining could deliver the kind of economic boost to the one enjoyed by China after it joined the trade club in 2001.

"Joining the WTO is like a marathon. Russia has run the course and entered the stadium. All that is left is the final lap and we don't know how long that will take," said Franco, in comments published in Russian.

Franco said that of particular concern was backsliding by Russia on commitments written into a bilateral WTO deal with the EU signed in 2004.

"Their execution is taking a lot of time, although we think that fulfilling some of them should be quite simple," he told Kommersant. "We hope that, in the final analysis, Russia fulfills its commitments in time."

Areas of concern singled out by Franco included tariffs on goods shipped by rail and licensing of imports of alcoholic beverages. EU member Finland said last week that a hike in Russian timber export duties had violated the 2004 agreement.

Franco's remarks echoed criticism last week by U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, who said Russia had a "great deal to do to get the multilateral part of its WTO accession agreement concluded."

Schwab said there were "critical issues" concerning agriculture and the protection of intellectual property rights, where the United States wants Russia to crack down on software and video piracy.