Georgia, Still Russia's Roadblock to Joining WTO

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 6/10/2011 12:02:00 AM
I just wanted to add this update to my ever-growing collection of posts pertaining to Russia joining the WTO [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]. The gist of it is that Georgia remains the main obstacle to Russia joining the international trade body. Given Georgia's outright conflict and continuing troubles with Russia over access to its erstwhile breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the final blocking party was obvious. Imagine having another country controlling access to what you rightfully can claim as your own territory. It's not fun stuff. When we last had dispatches from this front, Switzerland had offered to mediate WTO entry among the quarrelling factions. Many months later, perhaps Swiss efforts haven't been enough. From Bloomberg:
Georgia and Russia haven’t made any “substantial” progress in three months of talks on Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization, Prime Minister Nika Gilauri said. “We don’t see any substantial progress yet even though there are some steps,” Gilauri said today in an interview with Bloomberg News at the World Economic Forum on Europe and Central Asia in Vienna. “So far the talks are going very much in the same mode.”

Switzerland in March started mediating negotiations between Russia and Georgia, which fought a five-day war in 2008 over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia. Georgia has cited disputes over customs checkpoints in South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, as reasons to withhold its approval for Russian WTO membership.

Russia, the largest economy outside the WTO, has been seeking to join the Geneva-based trade arbiter since June 1993. The U.S. announced last year it had resolved most issues necessary for Russia’s accession. “The only request from Georgia’s side is for transparency on border crossings, on customs checkpoints,” said Gilauri. “If there is no transparency on checkpoints, how can Russia become a member of the WTO?”

Russia rejects “politicization” of WTO accession talks by Georgia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in March. The “political window of opportunity” for Russia to enter may “start to close down” at the end of the year as the U.S. and Russia enter election years, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said in an interview with Bloomberg in Miami in April, adding that he is hopeful an agreement will be reached before then.
Like me, do you find it odd that the US election cycle would put off the Russian bid for WTO membership? Despite the usual paeans to equal membership status, some may be just that bit more equal than others--alike the country that was instrumental in creating it. Some things never change, but you have to wonder if US presidential elections really matter that much in an ostensibly multilateral organization.

Meanwhile, As Clausewitz said, war is the continuation of politics by other means--a perfect explanation of the aforementioned conflict. What better way for Georgia to contest Russian checkpoints located in its breakaway republics but to create roadblocks to Russia joining the WTO? Strictly speaking it's not a trade issue being debated, but how does the "free movement of goods and services" sit alongside your neighbour fencing you out from your own territory? Strange but true.