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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

5 Days of WTO Talks Begin in Geneva

GENEVA -- Russia began five days of politically sensitive negotiations Monday aimed at advancing its long effort to join the World Trade Organization, but officials said no "formal" meetings would take place because of resistance from Georgia.

Russian negotiator Maxim Medvedkov will meet privately with U.S. and European trade officials, before a gathering Wednesday of countries belonging to the working group handling Moscow's 14-year accession bid. Other meetings are scheduled through Friday.

The slow entry process has frustrated the Kremlin, which has been promising speedy accession for over a decade but has missed a series of self-imposed deadlines. In June, President Vladimir Putin criticized the WTO as "archaic" and said it protected the interests of a selected few developed countries.

The WTO group negotiating Russia's accession has been prevented from scheduling formal talks for over a year, largely because of Georgian obstruction, but also because some WTO members remain unconvinced that Putin's government has introduced any new initiatives to make its rules compatible with the trade body's standards.

Russia will seek this week to clarify commitments it is ready to make on customs fees and regulations, industrial subsidies, import restrictions and tariff quotas, said trade officials who did not want to be named because of the political sensitivity of the talks. It also will discuss rules on government support for plane maker Tupolev, which has been a sticking point with the United States and the European Union. The United States and the 27-nation EU are already embroiled in their own dispute over payments to rival airplane manufacturers Boeing and Airbus.

Membership in the WTO would mean Russia would receive the same favorable tariff rates for its products as other nations. Also, Russia would be able to challenge other members through the organization's dispute settlement system.

While Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref recently vowed that all talks would be completed in the fall, trade officials say that complicated multilateral negotiations, as well as difficult bilateral talks with Georgia, mean that the accession process will almost certainly drag on much longer.

Georgia is demanding that Russia stop trading with its two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and that all goods pass through checkpoints run by the Tbilisi government. It also complains about a Russian ban on Georgian wine and mineral water.

No Russia-Georgia talks are scheduled for this week, said officials at Russia's mission to international organizations in Geneva. Russia also has yet to secure bilateral agreements with Cambodia, largely because of rules governing textiles trading, and Saudi Arabia, which Moscow met with recently to discuss commitments on energy services.

To join, Russia will also have to resolve a number of outstanding issues with the European Union and will face tough negotiations with the United States under the WTO's multilateral talks. Issues left to be resolved include Russia's state monopolies, sanitary standards and enforcement of intellectual property rights. Talks are expected to be particularly sensitive when dealing with Russia's energy sector.