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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Key WTO Talks Will End Soon, Gref Says

Russia hopes to complete all the bilateral negotiations necessary for entry to the World Trade Organization by the end of May, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said Monday.

Gref told a conference Monday that Russia planned to finish talks with Vietnam by the end of April and with Cambodia by the end of May.

"The majority of the negotiations with Vietnam have been carried out and will be completed by the end of the month," Gref said, Interfax reported.

Greg said Cambodia had previously made demands "that were unacceptable to us," but added that "a deal would be struck with Cambodia before the end of May," Interfax reported.

Russia's chief WTO negotiator, Maxim Medvedkov, held a first round of talks in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, on April 1 and started negotiations with Cambodia, another WTO newcomer, last week.

Apart from the bilateral deals with Vietnam and Cambodia, Russia has yet to resolve a dispute with Georgia, which retracted its bilateral approval after Moscow banned imports of Georgian wine and mineral water in March 2006.

Medvedkov said Monday that Russia hoped to start a fresh round of negotiations with Georgia at the end of April.

"We agreed to meet with the Georgians at the end of February, but they were not ready for the talks. The only outstanding issues with Georgia are the two customs checkpoints along the borders with [its breakaway regions of] Abkhazia and South Ossetia," he said.

Medvedkov also hinted Monday that the imminent entry of Ukraine into the WTO might spell some problems for Russia.

"Our Ukrainian colleagues are ahead of us in negotiations for WTO accession and may become a member before fall of this year," he said, Interfax reported.

Medvedkov said Ukraine could become a new negotiating partner if it entered the organization before Russia, but stressed that Ukraine had stated on many occasions that it would not block Russia's accession.

Analysts said Russia's WTO ambitions could be fulfilled if it pursued negotiations with renewed vigor.

"Russia's anti-WTO lobby, which was very active four or five years ago, has now backed down, calling rather for quick action after realizing the advantages to be gained from WTO entry," said Ksenia Yudayeva, an analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies.

She said Russia had been experiencing delays mainly because there was no standard procedure for WTO accession, making "each negotiation a challenge and each member an antagonist."

Konstantin Kozlov, an economist at the Center for Finance and Economic Research, said negotiations had been lagging and shrouded in secrecy.

"The impression one gets is that the government is deliberately delaying accession until after the elections," Kozlov said. "The process of negotiation has been secretive, and Russia is provoking changes in the rules of the game by not stating unequivocally what it wants."

Kozlov said Gref was the only senior government official who wanted to speed up WTO entry, but he would be unable to achieve this on his own.