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5 Jun, 2009 03:04

Elusive WTO accession goal gets new push

The European Commission says Russia will become a member of the World Trade Organization by the end of this year. But both the United States and Europe warn Moscow must first reverse its slide into protectionism.

The EU and US trade chiefs came to this forum with Russian relations at a low. Europe has hit out at new Russian taxes on food and car imports. An unmoved Vladimir Putin wants to raise tariffs on shipbuilding and metals.

This US-Russia round table is designed to smooth what has become a very vocal dispute. On WTO membership alone, US trade representatives say Russia has a "very long way to go."

Russia has also banned pork exports from the US, its main supplier. Ronald Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative dubbed that "unfair" and "not based on international standards". Talks have begun in St Petersburg which he expects to continue.

“Engaged in a very productive conversation in the last hour with Deputy Prime Minister Shuvalov and Minister Nabulina. We’re going to continue those discussions”

The biggest sticking point is Russia's membership of the WTO. The EU's trade commissioner, Catherine Ashton, told RT it will happen this year.

“I’ve seen real political will and political will is an important part of what will take this forward. I hope what we will do now is go through the details of the issues that remain. There are only a few issues, but those need to be sorted out in order that Russia can join very quickly. I certainly hope we are talking about months and not years.”

But experts at the forum fear this may be another false dawn.

Russia's been applying to the organization since 1993, both sides have claimed imminent success for several years. Worst of all, since the crisis kicked in 17 of the top 20 economies have brought in fresh trade barriers, flying in the face of the free trade principles the WTO is supposed to advance.