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EU says no breakthrough with Russia in WTO talks

EU and Russian officials failed on Thursday to reach a breakthrough on Moscow’s long-delayed World Trade Organization bid ahead of Moscow’s plan to hike timber export duties on April 1.

“Talks continue,” said Peter Power, a spokesman for EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson. Mandelson and Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin talked by telephone on Thursday as the two sides tried to speed up their search for an agreement that would clear the way for the European Union to give final approval for Moscow’s WTO accession bid. One of the main obstacles has been Russia’s plan to increase the duties it applies to exports of timber, which hurt paper and pulp producers in Nordic EU states, especially Finland.

On April 1 the duties are due to rise to 25% from 20%, one of a series of planned increases. The duties add to costs for Swedish and Finnish paper companies such as Stora Enso, the world’s biggest paper producer, UPM-Kymmene and M-Real. Moscow also has to get final clearance for its WTO bid from other countries, including the United States, which is seeking better protection against intellectual property theft. Kudrin said on Tuesday he would travel next week to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in a bid to get their blessing for Russia’s bid. (Reuters)