Russia's Troubles on the Road to WTO Accession

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 4/28/2008 11:57:00 PM
Russia is the largest state in terms of both population and economic output not in the WTO. Despite this fact, I am still surprised that, as far as I know, I am the only weirdo who has been following the country's path to WTO accession in the blogosphere [1, 2, 3, 4]. Why the neglect? I think this matter is beyond trivial pursuit considerations, and it also may be the most interesting country to accede to the WTO since China in 2001 in geopolitical terms. Nevertheless, this is the IPE Zone, and I will cover this topic no matter what as it is primo, A-No. 1 international political economy fodder. As noted earlier, the Republic of Georgia was always going to be the roadblock on Russia's path to WTO membership. In particular, Russia has long been cottoning up to Georgia's breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moscow has held a dim view of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili as a Western stooge, especially after the ouster of President Eduard Shevardnadze in the so-called Rose Revolution of 2003 (he was previously Soviet foreign affairs minister).

The latest row was sparked by Russia's decision to create stronger ties with South Ossetia and Abkhazia on 16 March 2008. While rather short of diplomatic recognition, Georgia was nonetheless extremely displeased by Russia's action. On top of this, Georgia has been pressing Russia to close its checkpoints with the breakaway republics as per an agreement made between the two countries in 2004. South Abkhazia and Ossetia have had historical grievances with their Georgian neighbours, and have appealed for help from Moscow. One of the more interesting appeals was based on Kosovo's declaration of independence on 17 February 2008; the breakaway republics thought this set a precedent for Russia to follow in recognizing them. Fat chance of that lest Moscow risk offending even more WTO members other than Georgia. Remember, Russia needs the assent of all WTO members including Georgia before it gets into the WTO. From ITAR-TASS, our second favourite official news agency (actually, ITAR-TASS's articles are usually better written, more informative and impartial than Xinhua's, but that's another story for another time):

Georgia will resume bilateral talks with Russia on its accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) only after the Russian leadership has cancelled its decision of April 16 to establish direct ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Deputy Minister of Economic Development Tamar Kovziridze told Georgian Public Television and Rustavi-2 television on Monday, “The next round of multilateral talks on Russia’s accession to the WTO may be tentatively held in a month.” Kovziridze, who leads the Georgian delegation to the talks on Russia’ s accession to the WTO, is in Geneva on a visit. Speaking of bilateral talks with Russia, she said they would resume “only after the leadership of Russia has cancelled its decision on April 16”.

Russian’s chief negotiator Maxim Medvedkov said earlier that Russian-Georgian consultations on Russia’s accession to the World Trade organisation scheduled for Monday had not taken place because of Georgia’s refusal to negotiate. “We were supposed have consultations on the operation of customs points in the Abkhazian and South Ossetian sections of the Russian-Georgian border, but they did not take place,” he said.

A Georgian official said his country was suspending the process until “Russia stops the operation of the Russian president in respect to Abkhazia and South Ossetia”. The official said, “These instructions contain measures that require ratification by the WTO or are not consistent with certain articles of the WTO Charter”.

“So we made a different announcement for the members of the working group [on Russia’s accession to the WTO], according to which none of the words in these instructions affected the WTO discipline, and we think that our Georgian partners’ statements, let alone their refusal to negotiate, is the wrong step that does not help solve the problems that have piled up in Russian-Georgian relations and in the context of Russia’s accession to the WTO,” Medvedkov said. In his words, the Georgian delegation even tried to block the decision on further operation of the working group, but “the overwhelming majority of the participants in today’s consultations called for continuing the process”.

The Georgian Ministry of Economic Development said earlier in the day that Russia’s decision of April 16 infringed upon Georgia’s sovereignty and a director violation of the fundamental principles of the WTO. “At the bilateral talks with Russia [and] Georgia, as before, will raise the question of Russia’s compliance with the obligations signed in 2004 that provide for trade with Georgia through legal checkpoints and the legalisation of checkpoints ion the Abkhazian and South Ossetian sections of the Georgian-Russian state border”.

In February, Saakashvili said Russian government officials had given their preliminary agreement for the opening of joint border customs points on the border, including on Abkhazian and South Ossetian sections.