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Finnish foreign minister hopes for Russian accession to WTO this year

September 09, 2011, 19:02 UTC+3

Tuomioja said they had discussed items on the European agenda and Russia-EU relations in which Finland could lay a constructive role

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MOSCOW, September 9 (Itar-Tass) —— Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja hopes that Russia may enter into the World Trade Organization (WTO) before the end of this year. He made the statement after the Friday negotiations with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Tuomioja said they had discussed items on the European agenda and Russia-EU relations in which Finland could lay a constructive role. The minister expressed hope for close bilateral cooperation and confirmed the absence of problems in bilateral relations. Trade, investments and tourism are growing, and high-speed traffic between Russia and Finland is a very positive factor, the minister said. He proposed the consideration of other measures, such as visa-free travel.

President Dmitry Medvedev said at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum this June that Russia might enter into the WTO in 2011 if the matter was not politicized. “There is no alternative to deeper integration of the Russian economy into the global [market] either. The same as parachutes, markets work only when they are open,” Medvedev said. “Without an open economy, we will fall and hit ourselves hard, so we will lower barriers to foreign investments and hope to complete the Russian accession to the WTO and, later on, to the OECD. I think it realistic to complete the WTO accession process this year, if no political games are played again,” he said.

“We have long been prepared for entering into the WTO more than many other countries, both big and very small. However, they want us to make too many concessions. This is an unacceptable approach; we will never agree to decisions, which are purely disadvantageous for Russia. If our partners appear to be unprepared for a fair arrival of Russia in international organizations, it would be a bad script. This way or another, certain political or economic interests must not hamper our successful development.

The Russian entry into the WTO will make it possible to play by non-discriminative rules, Presidential Aide Arkady Dvorkovich said. He recalled that Russia expected to complete the accession process before the yearend. “The partners of Russia have similar expectations. We have a very insignificant number of disagreements with our partners, and most of them apply to the common rules rather than to Russia as such,” he said. “There is one disagreement related to Russia’s very long entry into the WTO, but this is not our fault. In the long accession process, we made decisions that disagreed with the rules of the organization. We do not want to repeal these decisions before we enter into the WTO. We have commitments to investors, we have contracts, and the most important is that our partners at the negotiations must understand that the WTO is not a goal in itself but an instrument and that they need Russian membership in the WTO no less than Russia needs it,” he said.

The WTO was established on January 1, 1995, as the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) that had been operating since 1947. This is the only international body supervising world trade. The WTO has the status of a UN specialized agency. It is headquartered in Geneva.

The WTO has 153 members at present. Negotiations on the admission of a new member are held within the working group, which unites countries that have unsettled trade problems with the candidate.

As a rule, negotiations focus on four areas: accessibility to the goods market, agriculture, accessibility to the market of services, and systemic matters. The candidate must bring its national laws in correspondence with the WTO rules. Two-thirds of votes of WTO members are sufficient for the admission of a new member. Regularly, the accession process takes a decade.

Russia applied for membership in the WTO in December 1994. The number of its negotiating partners kept growing through the years, and the latest working group had 58 members – the largest working group ever in the entire history of the WTO. Six-year negotiations with the United States were the most difficult for Russia (the bilateral protocol was signed on November 19, 2006). The negotiations with the European Union also lasted for six years (the protocol was signed on May 21, 2004). Full consent was reached with the United States and the EU in the second half of 2010, and Russian officials said that Moscow was able to become a WTO member by the end of 2011.

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