Russia Moving Toward WTO Membership
by Marc Chandler
Russia is the last of the major countries that has not joined the World Trade Organization. The importance of the WTO may not be so much in liberalizing trade as negotiations take years. The WTO predecessor was GATT, which some suggested stood for the general agreement to talk and talk. Rather the value of the WTO may be in conflict resolution. This too takes time, but the is part of rule of law trade regime which may help prevent trade issues from spilling over into political or military spheres.
Russia’s concessions in three areas: timber tariffs, market access and protecting foreign investors, appears to have won over the European Union. Russia has been negotiating ascension to the WTO on and off since 1993, but the current attempt is thought to be the most serious. There still are some outstanding issues that need to be resolved between Russia and Europe and this could take well into 2011.
Georgia blocked an earlier attempt (2008, before the conflict) for Russia to join the WTO, which requires bilateral agreements with all current members. However, political insiders say this time, Georgia is likely to agree to Russia’s ascension. Bottom line is that in 2011 Russia will likely complete its negotiations and join the WTO in 2012. When Russia is a WTO member, foreign investors may feel more secure and it may help attract foreign investment again.