MOSCOW — The United States gave its blessing Friday for Russia to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), lifting a major obstacle for Moscow which has sought to enter the global trade group for 17 years. Russia is the last major economic power to lack WTO membership. Following lengthy negotiations started in 1993, Russia’s entry into the multilateral trade group was questioned by the United States after its five-day war with Georgia in August 2008.
The Kremlin announced Friday that Moscow and Washington had completed their negotiations over Russia’s potential membership in the Geneva-based body that regulates global trade, with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama discussing the matter by telephone. “The parties noted that, consistent with agreements reached during previous negotiations in Washington, bilateral negotiations on Russia’s entry into the WTO had been completed,” Russian government spokeswoman Natalia Timakova said in comments carried by Russian news agencies. The White House noted Russia’s “substantial” progress toward joining the WTO and vowed to support Moscow’s bid to complete the remaining steps “as soon as possible.” “By passing major pieces of legislation, including major amendments to laws which govern the effective protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), the Russian government has taken and continues to take significant steps,” it added in a statement. “President Obama pledged to support Russia’s efforts to complete remaining steps in multilateral negotiations so that Russia could join the WTO as soon as possible.” During a meeting in Washington in late June, Obama and Medvedev had asked their negotiators to table an agreement by Sept. 30. The end of bilateral negotiations between the two former Cold War foes signals that efforts will now focus on multilateral talks underway in Geneva to make Russia the 154th member of the institution early next year. Any advantages Moscow provides to a partner in bilateral negotiations must also be extended to all other WTO member states, according to the group’s rules. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin indicated last month that his country was hoping to join the WTO on January 1st, but also acknowledged he doubted such a timeline. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk also welcomed bilateral resolutions on issues that need to be addressed for Russia’s accession. He said Washington had obtained “commitments” from Russia on matters of “particular importance” to U.S. interests, such as intellectual property rights, government procurement and transparency in the decision-making process on trade issues. “Having Russia in the rules-based system of the WTO is clearly in the United States’ interest, and we will continue to offer our support as Russia completes the accession process,” said Kirk. “By reaching bilateral agreement on key issues related to the accession process, Russia can now devote additional energy to addressing remaining steps at the multilateral level.” Earlier Friday Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, speaking at a conference in the Ukraine, said Moscow and Washington had worked through all of the issues surrounding Russia’s WTO admission. Russia will begin the accession process in two to four months and could “theoretically” join the Geneva-based body in 10 months, Kudrin said at the Yalta economic forum on the shores of the Black Sea in the Ukraine.