Chair of Russia WTO talks sees progress



The senior official tasked with steering Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will host "substantive" talks next week aimed at concluding a number of negotiating texts, he told Reuters.

Stefan Johannesson said he had called a meeting of the trade body's working group on Russian WTO membership -- which he chairs -- for May 25 in Geneva .

"The last meeting was to take stock ... I hope at this meeting to register some progress and to set aside and agree a number of texts," said Johannesson, who is also Iceland 's envoy to the European Union.

The texts being tabled next week cover areas such as trade in goods and services, foreign investment and intellectual property rights (IPR). Russia , which has been trying for more than a decade to join the 153-member global trade body, is the largest economy to remain outside the global trade watchdog.

But Moscow 's accession stalled after the United States put the issue on ice over its opposition to Russia 's military incursion into Georgia in 2008. "The U.S. is re-engaged on Russia 's WTO entry. There are still some outstanding issues such as intellectual property rights, state trading and food safety rules," Johannesson said.


Moves by Moscow to place duties on imports of timber and cars from the EU, and threats of further tariffs on other goods ranging from shoes to furniture have also hurt its WTO aspirations.

All WTO members must approve Russia 's membership bid for the country to join. "There is every indication from members to make progress. There is a willingness. Russia is working very hard," Johannesson said.

Russia 's WTO bid is expected to feature highly at a summit of EU and Russian leaders in eastern Russia on Thursday, diplomats said.

"The European Union wants Russia in the WTO and still supports its bid. But they need to play by the rules," an EU diplomat with knowledge of the negotiations told Reuters.

"So I think there is an urgency to conclude the talks as soon as possible." Russia 's envoy to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said last week his country was "frustrated" over the speed of negotiations.

But Johannesson would not say how much longer negotiations would need to continue, even if talks succeeded next week.

"If we get agreement on these texts, then that will hopefully feed positively into a revision in the working party's next interim report," Johannesson said.

"But the next stage needs to be discussed with the members and a serious judgment needs to be made on what the next step might or might not be."