Georgia On Russia's Mind On Latter Joining WTO

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 4/04/2011 12:01:00 AM
Alike the completion of the Doha Round, another WTO-related possibility that I've covered for as long as this blog has been around--four years already, mind you--is Russia joining the WTO. Actually, Russian efforts to enter the WTO far predate this blog--and even the World Wide Web going mainstream, for that matter. In 1993, during the leadership of the late Boris Yeltsin, Russia began a working party exploring its accession into world trade fora. Despite several twists and turns [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9], let's just say this story isn't quite over yet.

Many of the more recent Russia/WTO posts have concerned the understandable wariness of neighbouring Georgia to allow Russian entry. All existing members must agree to Russia joining the WTO and Georgia beat Russia to the WTO in 2000. Since then, Russia and Georgia have contested the latter turning more towards the West, especially after the so-called Rose Revolution. I suppose Georgia's grievances with Russia are obvious and relevant: First, Russia continues to encourage the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia with their populations predominantly of Russian heritage.

As you may have predicted, Georgia is the sole objector in Russia's 2011 edition bid for membership:
The only objector to Russian membership of the World Trade Organization is Georgia. Unsettled conditions for Russian memberships are down to just seven. The chief Russian WTO negotiator Maxim Medvedkov told this to reporters in Geneva on Friday after emerging from the latest round of Russia’s talks with the global trade regulating body. He believed Russia would win full WTO membership in the period between next May and next January.
To put it mildly, I suppose you too wouldn't be happy if another country (Russia) set up checkpoints that prevented transportation within your own territory (into the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia). This, mind you, despite Switzerland being drafted to help mediate between the two previously warring parties.
Switzerland will mediate between Russia and Georgia on joining the World Trade Organization, Alexander Lukashevich, a spokesman at the Russian Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Moscow on Thursday. The Swiss helped arrange three-party talks on Russia's WTO entry that are scheduled to take place in Bern on Thursday.

Russia, the largest economy outside the trade arbiter, rejects "politicization" of WTO accession talks by Georgia, Lukashevich said. "As for the accession of Russia to the WTO, the Russian president stressed the impermissibility of politicization of this issue and the attempts of Georgian officials to debate elements unrelated to WTO membership conditions," he said.

The matter was also discussed between Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in their meeting Thursday. Biden did not give any direct promises to Putin to facilitate a solution to the "Georgian problem," Putin's deputy chief of staff, Yury Ushakov, said following the meeting. The Americans talked with Georgian representatives about a positive solution to the question of Russia's WTO accession, Ushakov said

Russia's entry has faced opposition from WTO member Georgia, with which it fought a five-day war in 2008 over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Georgia has cited disputes over customs checkpoints in South Ossetia and Abkhazia as reasons to withhold its approval.
To me this is the curious thing: Georgia under Mikhail Saakashvili has courted American favour to (hopefully) distance itself from Russia's overbearing attitude towards its neighbour. Yet, with even the US pressing for Russian membership at the moment, Georgia is still reluctant to let Russia in. Go figure; I guess the scars of conflict remain as forgive and forget are not yet on the menu.

With US and EU powers-that-be pressing quite hard for Russian inclusion, I suppose its foibles are being conveniently forgotten for now. Reasons for this forgetfulness likely include wishing that the biggest trading nation outside of the WTO join to keep the institution relevant. Contrary to the Russian officials' suggestions above, the Russians play politics. Hardball politics. The Khodorkovsky saga suggests arbitrariness in the application and interpretation of the law. Russia's penchant for coming up with random explanations for cutting off gas supplies or raising its price when it suits doesn't inspire confidence, either. As such matters don't fall under the general purview of the WTO, I suppose Russia's case is improved. Then again, be wary of what you wish for is probably the principle in operation here.