Russia Still Working Toward WTO Membership, Putin Says


Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has reaffirmed his country's commitment to seeking Membership in the WTO, even though as recently two months ago Russian officials said they might backtrack on some promises the country had made in its negotiations to join the global trade body.

“We will continue the negotiating process,” Putin said, as reported by the Russian news agency Itar-Tass. “Such is our goal. We will conduct negotiations patiently and with arguments.”

Russia 's bid to join the WTO, which as of this spring was considered on track to be concluded by the end of the year, stalled after conflict flared up in neighbouring Georgia in August. With some in the West threatening to block Moscow's entry into the WTO over its role in the violence, Putin said that Russia was considering pulling back from some of the commitments it had already made in its accession process (see Bridges Weekly, 4 September 2008, http://ictsd.net/i/news/bridgesweekly/27680/). The country has been negotiating its terms of entry into the global trade forum for nearly 15 years

“We don't feel or see any advantages from membership, if they exist at all,” Putin said in August.

But circumstances have changed over the past two months: the conflict in Georgia has quieted, Russia has withdrawn its troops from ‘buffer zones' in Georgia (though not from the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia), and the Russian Prime Minister has changed his tune on trade.

“We should take into account present-day realities, but strategically isolationism is not our choice,” Putin said on Monday, Itar-Tass reported. “Our choice is further integration of Russia into the world economy.”

And Russia 's WTO bid has received the support of some of its major trading partners. During a visit to Moscow earlier this week, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said that Russia has China 's full backing in its efforts to join the WTO.

Similar support has come from Peter Mandelson, the former EU Trade Commissioner and current UK Business Minister, who urged Russia to press on in its WTO bid in a speech in Moscow on Tuesday. “I can understand how, after 15 long years, it's hard not to experience negotiating fatigue. But when 90 percent of the work on Russia 's accession has been achieved, now is not the time to give up.”

Russia is the largest economy in the world that has yet to join the 153-Member global trade body.

David Merkel, the US ' deputy assistant secretary of state for Russia said in an interview with The Moscow Times last week that deeper integration into the world economy could bring Russia greater stability during turbulent financial times. “ Russia is not an insulated island outside the world community,” he said. “With globalism, Russia is affected by things that happen outside its borders.”

ICTSD reporting; “China supports Russia's membership in WTO,” KOMMERSANT, 28 October 2008; “US sees double hit for Russia's economy,” THE MOSCOW TIMES, 27 October 2008; “Russia still interested in joining WTO - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin,” ITAR-TASS, 27 October 2008