Russia's Tragicomic WTO Bid Turns Solo Again

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 7/16/2009 10:34:00 AM
Ho-hum, here we go again. The usual tagline while discussing Russia joining the WTO is that it is the largest economy still outside the organization's membership. I have made several posts on this topic, the last being on EU asking for Russia to join the organization prior to pursuing more detailed bilateral discussions. A few weeks ago, the Russian authorities threw a spanner in the works by saying that it would apply for membership together with Belarus and Kazakhstan as a customs union. This bid was so wacky that I failed to report on it. For starters, (1) there isn't even an existing customs union / league of dictators to speak of, and (2) Russian relations with Belarus and Kazakhstan aren't entirely hunky-dory.

Mercifully, I saved myself a few keyboard strokes (thanks a lot, procrastination) since the purported customs union application appears increasingly unlikely. While a customs union bid for WTO membership is possible in principle, it hasn't been done before. Moreover, this motley crew would not have been the ideal proponents of it for any number of reasons, not the least because of trade-related disputes Russia has with Georgia and Ukraine hindering applications by Belarus and Kazakhstan. That is, Russia's woes which they aren't party to would've been dumped on them, too. Our friends at the ICTSD have discussed the twists in turns in some detail and I believe it's best to refer to them. Let me paraphrase what has transpired:
  1. "£$%^ the WTO giving us trouble over South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Ukraine; it doesn't really matter. The WTO can ^&*%ing go to hell for all we care."
  2. "Then again, perhaps the WTO has some value despite its Western bias."
  3. "Given that the WTO has given us so much trouble in joining--we've been discussing this thing for 16 years now--it's time we made a joint customs union bid with our pals Belarus and Kazakhstan."
  4. "Erm, maybe the original solo bid wasn't so bad after all..."
This soap opera continues--and continues to amuse if not necessarily enlighten. Maybe they can hire comedian Yakov Smirnoff as their lead negotiatior. Heaven knows, they aren't likely to do much worse than they're doing now.