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WTO insists Russia go commercial

The latest round of consultations on Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization, which ended Friday in Geneva, have brought new problems.

The level of Russia’s support for agro-business and its energy market concern WTO members. In addition, the want Russia’s aviation construction industry to be liberalized, and the United States has proposed that Russia guarantee that its state companies will operate on purely commercial principles. China agreed to a similar obligation when it acceded to the WTO. Russia will formally respond to these issues by mid-September, but discussion of these new topics may go on to the end of the year.

Outwardly, the negotiations were highly successful. Ten sections of the final report on trade with Russia were discussed, and head of the Russian delegation Maxim Medvedev says the documents on the remaining 12 section will be provided by Russia by mid-September. Negotiations with Saudi Arabia were concluded. Alexey Likhachev, deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee on Economic Policy, told Kommersant that only three or four amendments remained to be introduced to conciliate Russian law with WTO rules, and that will be done “promptly,” so that the WTO secretariat receives those documents in September as well.

The main problems in negotiations arose in the sections of the report devoted to agriculture and sanitary standards. The size of the support for agriculture in Russia ($43.3 billion from 2008 to 2012) is the central issue. Sergey Kiselev, main negotiator from the Agriculture Ministry, says much of that money will go to ecological measures and support to farmers, on which there are no limitations, so he hopes negotiations will turn out favorably in the end. He noted that sanitary standards are a more complex question still. The Russian delegation called the American suggestion that Russia take on obligations concerning government participation in trade a “Jackson-Vanik Amendment No. 2,” saying that those obligations are only applied to communist countries. Furthermore, they say, Russian state companies observe WTO rules and have a small share in the country’s foreign trade. (