Russiawill hold negotiations with Georgiaon joining the World Trade Organization in late April, 's chief WTO negotiator said on Tuesday. Moscow has been seeking membership of the WTO since 1993. So far, Russia Russiahas concluded bilateral talks with over 60 states but still needs to complete discussions with the WTO members - Saudi Arabia, the and Georgia - that have trade disagreements with the country. United Arab Emirates
"We are discussing the possibility of a new meeting with
Georgia, which is likely to take place in late April in where a new round of negotiations will be held," Maxim Medvedkov said. Geneva Tbilisiearlier vetoed 's accession to the world's largest trade body. Relations between the two former Soviet republics have rapidly deteriorated since the Western-leaning Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in Russia in 2004. Georgia
Moscowimposed a transportation and postal blockade on in October 2006 in apparent retaliation for the detention on espionage charges of four Russian army officers. Russian officials cited commercial reasons, while Georgia called the move politically motivated. However, flights are set to resume to Tbilisi Georgiafrom on Tuesday after a deal was struck in late February. Russia
The South Caucasus republic says it will cease to block
Russia's WTO bid only after Moscowhonors its 2004 commitment to close down its border checkpoints with Georgia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The two de facto independent republics recently appealed to for recognition of their sovereignty in the wake of Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence on February 17. Moscow
At the same time, Medvedkov said that
Russiawould possibly sign a protocol on concluding WTO talks with the soon. "We hope to complete negotiations with the United Arab Emirates this week and after that we'll sign a protocol at a time convenient for the parties," Medvedkov said, adding that the document could be signed in late April. United Arab Emirates
Russia's has already completed bilateral WTO talks with both the and the EU. Multilateral talks are underway now on agricultural support, export duties, veterinary matters and intellectual piracy. U.S.
Aside from the negotiations with Georgia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, Russia is facing some contentious discussions with the EU, especially on timber export duties that are having deleterious effects on Nordic paper makers. It's interesting to hear what Alexei Kudrin, Putin's point man on economic matters, has to say. This from Reuters:
is nearing the end of its bid to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) but still faces "difficult" talks with the European Union on timber export duties, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said on Tuesday. Russia
"The WTO accession talks are nearing conclusion. There is intense work going on. Officials from the
and the European Union are constructively working with us," Kudrin said in a speech. "We are holding difficult but constructive talks on timber duties (with the European Union)," Kudrin, who heads the government's WTO commission, told reporters later. United States is the largest economy outside the WTO. Russia
Kudrin said he would travel next week to
Saudi Arabiaand the United Arab Emirates, two of the three countries with which has yet to conclude bilateral deals. Ex-Soviet neighbour Georgia is the third. Russia
"Almost every week we undo a knot. The number of unsolved issues is diminishing," Kudrin said. He declined to predict a date for
's accession, but said: "We have a feeling that there is positive movement." Kudrin said WTO accession would be the next major milestone in Russia 's economic development after the 2006 liberalisation of capital movement. Kudrin, Russia's economic policy tsar and said to be the leading authority on economic issues for outgoing President Vladimir Putin, met European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson in Brussels last week. Russia
His schedule indicated he wanted to achieve a breakthrough in the talks before an expected government reshuffle in May after the inauguration of President Dmitry Medvedev.
Brusselshas yet to give final clearance for 's WTO bid, mainly because of the dispute over Russian export duties on timber that hurts paper and pulp producers in Nordic EU states. Russia
President Vladimir Putin imposed export duties on raw timber in 2007 to promote the development of Russia's wood-processing industry, adding to the costs of Swedish and Finnish paper firms such as Stora Enso, the world's biggest paper producer, UPM-Kymmene, and M-Real.
The duties are due to rise to 25 percent from 20 percent on April 1, one of a series of planned increases. Credit ratings agency Standard & Poor's said a planned increase in the duty to 80 percent from January 2009 would be "potentially devastating" and raised the risk of downgrades for companies in the Nordic forest products sector.
The Bank of Finland has said the higher duties could lead to job cuts and lower national economic output. About 20 percent of raw wood used by Finnish paper mills comes from
. Russian WTO negotiator Maxim Medvedkov, who said last year Russia had a solution to the timber export duties row, said the issue was still being discussed with the EU, along with six or seven other duties. Russia
"Our disagreements are diminishing but we have not so far reached common ground. We need a little bit more time," Medvedkov told Reuters. Russian officials declined to reveal the proposals.