- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2004

The European Union yesterday backed Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization in return for Russian pledges to support a global-warming treaty and open its market to greater competition.

Russia is the largest economy outside the WTO, a 147-nation body that sets rules to ease cross-border trade and investment. The nation of 145 million still must strike separate deals with the United States, China and other WTO members before it can formally accede.

EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy and Russian Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref signed an agreement in Moscow yesterday on one set of terms for Russia’s WTO membership.

“This deal brings Russia a step closer to the international trade family, the World Trade Organization, where it belongs,” said Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, the EU executive body.

The 25-nation European Union is Russia’s biggest trading partner.

The two sides had fought over a series of economic and political issues, including Russia’s support for the Kyoto Protocol. The protocol is a U.N.-brokered agreement designed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Many scientists believe the gases trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming, a phenomenon that could alter the climate in the next century.

The United States rejected the treaty in 2001. Because nations producing 55 percent of greenhouse gases must ratify Kyoto before it takes effect, Russia’s participation is necessary.

The European Union favors the treaty, but some of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisers had complained that the pact is based on flawed science and would constrict the country’s economic growth.

Mr. Putin yesterday said he supported Kyoto. “We will speed up Russia’s movement toward the Kyoto Protocol’s ratification,” he said.

Russia also committed to increase natural gas prices, blunting an advantage the country’s industries had over EU rivals, to lower tariffs and to open services to greater competition.

Russia applied to join the WTO in 1993, and talks with the European Union, United States and other nations have moved in fits and starts since.

The Bush administration yesterday said it welcomed the Russia-EU trade agreement, but said that Russia would have to work out a range of issues with the United States before it would be able to join the WTO.

Richard Mills, spokesman for the U.S. trade representative, said concerns remain with agricultural trade and enforcement of patents and copyrights, as well as market access for U.S. manufactured goods and service companies.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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