13.06 2007

Russia hopes to complete bilateral WTO talks in summer



Russia hopes to complete bilateral negotiations on its accession to the World Trade Organization with Guatemala , Vietnam and Cambodia this summer, Russia 's deputy economics minister said Sunday.

Maxim Medvedkov, Russia 's chief negotiator at accession talks with the global trade body, said Russia would sign an agreement with Guatemala in the next two weeks and with Cambodia in early July. Talks with Cambodia are in progress, he said.

"The issue will be closed before the end of the summer," Medvedkov said.

Medvedkov said after completing talks with the two Southeast Asian countries and Guatemala Russia would have to hold bilateral talks with Georgia and Saudi Arabia . The latter has not officially started the negotiating process.

Russia had to reenter WTO talks with Georgia in May after the former Soviet republic withdrew its signature from an earlier agreement with Russia a few months ago amid tensions in bilateral relations.

Georgia wants Russia to honor its 2004 commitment to close checkpoints on the border with Georgia 's breakaway regions. The Kremlin says this is not a WTO-related issue.

Medvedkov also said Georgia had handed over a list of other WTO-related demands to Russia . Russian experts are to prepare the answers within the next two weeks.

Speaking at a major economic forum in St. Petersburg Sunday, WTO Secretary General Pascal Lamy said the WTO could not be considered a multilateral organization without Russia . The official also said that Russia needed the WTO membership to improve confidence in its economy.

Another high-ranking official, European Commissioner for Trade Peter Mandelson, pledged Sunday more assistance to Russia and other ex-Soviet states in their WTO bids. He said he would press with his efforts to secure Russia , Ukraine and Kazakhstan into the trade organization as soon as possible.

Russia 's economics minister, German Gref, discussed further steps on WTO negotiations at meetings with Mandelson and Lamy as part of the 11th St. Petersburg Economic Forum Sunday.

Deputy United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab told a news conference in St. Petersburg that Russia could joint the trade organization as early as in 2007, which depended on Russia . She added Washington would have welcomed its early accession to the 150-member group.

Russia is the only major economy outside the WTO.

Russia 's has already completed bilateral WTO talks both with the U.S. and the EU. Multilateral talks are underway now on agricultural support, export duties, veterinary and phytosanitary measures, and piracy.