- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

2:30 p.m.

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia and the United States reached agreement today on Moscow’s eventual entry into the World Trade Organization, but final details needed to be resolved for a formal deal to be signed at next week’s summit meeting in Vietnam.

“Government delegations from both countries agreed on all principal conditions of this agreement,” the Russian Trade and Economic Development Ministry said.

The ministry said both sides would continue talks to ensure that the bilateral agreement was signed by the countries’ top trade negotiators next week at a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Hanoi. The ministry did not give any more details.

“We have an agreement in principle and are finalizing the details,” U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in a separate announcement. “This agreement will mark an important step in Russia attaining membership in the WTO.”

Russia is the largest economy outside the 149-member WTO, and its efforts to join have been bogged down in trying to reach a bilateral agreement with the United States, the last major country whose approval it needs to join the powerful body that sets global trade rules.

Once the agreement is signed, Russia will face a long road before it becomes a full WTO member.

Observers have suggested that progress over Russia’s bid would be linked to concessions from Moscow over how to respond to Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

Russia has resisted a push from Europe and the United States for sanctions against Iran, a trade partner. However, analysts have said a deal over the WTO could persuade Moscow to soften its opposition to punishing Tehran for its refusal to halt sensitive uranium enrichment.

“I think it is political. It’s clearly not an economic problem,” said Yevgeny Gavrilenkov, an economist with Troika Dialog in Moscow. “They may see some movement on supporting the U.N. resolution proposing sanctions.”

Because oil and gas — Russia’s key exports — are rarely subject to protective tariffs, analysts have said the question of Russia’s accession is largely symbolic.

Nonetheless, membership will be an added boost to Russia’s investment climate, showing that the U.S. and other members recognize that Moscow has eliminated most subsidies and cleaned up its woeful record on protecting intellectual property rights.

Membership, if it finally comes, would help Russia’s flagging manufacturers sell their goods overseas. Many Russian manufactured goods have been subject to trade barriers, Mr. Gavrilenkov said.

“There will be more opportunities for exports, not just oil and gas,” he said. “It could contribute to more intense diversification of exports and the economy in general.”

Full membership in the organization is still some way off: Russia has yet to sign a bilateral agreement with Costa Rica and also with its former Soviet neighbors Moldova and Georgia, with whom relations are strained.

Georgian officials have signaled that they would seek to block Russia’s membership after Russia imposed sweeping sanctions against Tbilisi in response to the arrest of several of its military personnel in a spying row.

Even with the bilateral agreements signed, the membership process is far from over.

Under WTO rules, the two-way deals must be consolidated so that all members trade with the candidate country under the same rules. That process can extend many months; it lasted two years in China’s case.

Russia earlier had hoped to sign a bilateral agreement with the U.S. as the centerpiece of the Group of Eight Summit, which it hosted in St. Petersburg in July, but talks foundered over sanitary inspections for U.S. beef and pork imports.

Russia refused a U.S. demand for an immediate increase in imports of American beef and pork before Russia completed a review of America’s food inspection system.

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