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Press review: Moscow to join WTO reform efforts and Russia, US vie over Afghan settlement

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, September 27


Izvestia: Russia to join WTO reform campaign

Moscow is interested in reforming the World Trade Organization (WTO) and believes it necessary to bolster the effectiveness of its Dispute Settlement Body, Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development told Izvestia, noting that "far from all of its members" support reforming the organization. Last week, the European Commission (EC) presented its proposal to revamp the WTO. "There are systemic things that require adjustment, and operational ones, which need to be improved. This includes reforming the Dispute Settlement Body, rethinking approaches to the issue of development, expanding and improving the negotiating and monitoring functions of the WTO, working on barriers, internal regulation and protectionist measures," the Russian Ministry said. "The legal framework of the WTO also has gaps that need to be filled. These are technical issues that need to be discussed point-by-point," the economic ministry added.

The Ministry noted that only a small number of participants have come forward with specific proposals. That being said, in addition to the European Commission’s project, Canada is currently cobbling together its suggestions. The United States also talked about the need for changes to the organization. However, the Economic Development Ministry said that the US has not yet presented any documents.

Experts interviewed by Izvestia forecast that the reforms can be postponed for 10-15 years. "The WTO system, with its shortcomings, has been functioning successfully for more than 70 years. Preliminary proposals are being voiced right now. There will be a lot of meetings and discussions before members shape a clear plan for modernization," Professor of World Economy and International Affairs Department at Higher School of Economics Alexey Portansky told the newspaper. "The WTO is the only structure that deals with global regulation in the trade and economic sphere, and it will take more than one year to reform the organization with 164 members," the expert noted.

According to Russia's Minister of Economic Development Maxim Oreshkin, the issue will be discussed at the November G20 summit in Argentina.


Izvestia: EAEU, Faroe Islands to strike free trade deal

The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) plans to enter into a free trade deal soon with the Faroe Islands - an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, but not part of the European Union. The press service of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) told Izvestia that the Faroe Islands have long and successfully cooperated with the EAEU and are trying to step up dialogue not only with Russia, but also with other members of the union. Jenis av Rana, a local legislator, told the newspaper, that exports of fish to Russia (and fishing is one of the main branches of the local economy) prevented a disaster that could have happened due to the European Union’s boycott of the Faroe Islands.

The question of a free trade zone was initially raised in 2013 and then in 2015, the EEC's press service told Izvestia. This summer, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Faroe Islands Poul Michelsen reiterated that the local administration was planning to enter into a free trade agreement with Russia and other EAEU members in 2019. The exact timeframe for sealing the agreement has not yet been set, but at the end of August 2018, a memorandum of understanding was concluded between the parties.

The memorandum does not create any obligations to establish and maintain any special conditions for mutual access to the market for the parties, but opens up the possibility of discussing a rather wide range of issues on fostering cooperation. The document will allow the Faroe Islands to intensify dialogue not only with Russia, but also with other countries of the union," the EEC's press service told Izvestia.

According to Jenis av Rana, this agreement is one of the most important goals for the region.

Closer ties between Russia and the Faroes (51,000 people on 18 islands) started in 2013. Due to the conflict around quotas for herring and mackerel catching, Brussels has banned the export of this type of fish to the European Union. At that time, the EU accounted for 80% of the fish caught by the islanders.


Kommersant: Russia, US vie over Afghan settlement

Tehran recently hosted a conference on Afghanistan, attended by China, Russia, India, Iran and envoys from Kabul. This one-day meeting was the most serious attempt to develop a mechanism for multilateral cooperation after the dissolution of the first direct talks between the Afghan authorities and the Taliban in Moscow, Kommersant wrote. The Tehran conference discussed ways to counter terrorism and concerns over Afghanistan turning into a new springboard for the Islamic State (banned in Russia). However, the meeting in Iran, declared by the United States as the main supporter of terrorism, has become only a semblance of unity among key players, competing with each other and offering alternative avenues towards an Afghan peace deal, according to the newspaper.

Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev represented Russia at the talks. In his address to the leading regional powers, he outlined a gloomy picture of what is happening in the country, whose security, together with Afghan forces after the overthrow of the Taliban regime, is provided by a contingent from the United States and NATO. In Russia’s view, a repetition of the Syrian-Iraqi scenario with Islamic State in Afghanistan is quite possible.

According to Kommersant, Russia's efforts to resolve the situation in Afghanistan are virtually blocked by Washington. "The United States has a monopoly on Afghan politics. They have almost complete control over the presidential palace in Kabul, and therefore it is useless to compete with them for influence in the country," Russian International Affairs Council member Georgy Asatryan told Kommersant. "The interests of many regional players are intertwined in Afghanistan," he noted, adding that the situation creates certain advantages for Moscow.

"Russia can communicate equally with almost all players, unlike the US, who are not able to talk about this issue with Iran or Pakistan, since they are at loggerheads," the expert explained.

By the same token, Washington is increasing pressure on another participant of the Tehran conference - China, who can also be included in the list of ‘friends’ Moscow has on the issue, the newspaper wrote.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US builds alliance to thwart China’s Silk Road project

Washington has found a strategic ally to counter China's expansion. India is negotiating with the United States on mutually thwarting the Chinese Belt and Road initiative. The US government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is going to combine the resources of Japan, Australia and India to create an alternative to Beijing’s global Silk Road project. American politicians openly say that their beef with China is a question of power, and not about trade and tariffs, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. In turn, Chinese officials hope for a closer rapprochement with Russia due to the confrontation with Washington. Meanwhile, Russian interests may suffer from the new economic war in Asia.

"India has refused to join the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and was anxiously watching China spread further into South Asia and pour more than $60 bln into Pakistan," the newspaper wrote. Now, the OPIC-Japan-Australia partnership is part of the Indo-Pacific economic model, which can openly challenge China’s expanding influence in Asia.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, China, in turn, suggested that Russia would support them in a global conflict with the United States. Thus, Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Fu Ziying said earlier that Beijing and Moscow are capable of joint efforts to overcome the adverse effects of the sanctions and trade wars that Washington has unleashed.

Five years ago, Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative aimed at building economic, political and cultural ties throughout Asia, as well as connecting the region with Europe and Africa through infrastructure projects such as ports, pipelines, road and railways. Beijing started implementing the initiative with the establishment of its $40-bln Silk Road Fund.


Kommersant: Russia might limit foreign vendors of telecom equipment

Russian manufacturers of telecommunications equipment have asked the Ministry of Industry and Trade to take measures to beef up their share of the domestic market, which now hovers at 6-8%, Kommersant wrote. The issue in particular includes quotas for the purchase of Russian equipment, not only by the government, but also by commercial entities, as well as a ban on foreigners from taking part in bids with at least two domestic proposals. Telecom operators believe that foreign equipment has better quality and prices, and restrictions would lead to higher prices for consumers.

At the same time, the alliance calls to support buyers of Russian equipment - to compensate them for the replacement of imported communication systems with new domestic ones and to lend at 5% per annum in rubles for a total of 10 billion rubles ($151.6 mln) a year.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade received proposals, which "will be studied and taken into account." The ministry noted that they already support Russian manufacturers, in particular, with subsidies for developing equipment.

Manufacturing telecom equipment is a sensitive sphere from the point of view of national security and foreign imports may well be limited if anti-Russian sanctions are toughened, therefore such appeals can generally find a positive response, General Director of Infoline-Analytics Mikhail Burmistrov told the newspaper. As the same time, the state already renders similar help to the automotive and pharmaceutical branches, he added.


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