Interview with Aleksey Kudrin
RT: Today you signed a protocol with the UAE about Russia joining the WTO. How did the negotiations go? What kind of difficulties did you encounter? And when do you expect to finish the talks with another Arab country, Saudi Arabia?
Aleksey Kudrin: Talks with the United Arab Emirates were conducted in a very constructive atmosphere and very actively. We began the negotiations in December. One of the key steps in the process was my meeting with the trade minister in Davos. We finished the talks in April. Today, it’s the final step – the signing. We were able to agree on the areas where Arab products would have normal access to the Russian market. And it agrees with the interests of Russia.
RT: Russia has been talking about joining WTO for a long time. The process has been a long one. When do you expect to finish talks with all WTO members and for Russia to join the organisation? What serious obstacles could arise?
A.K.: At present all the talks consist of two parts. The first part is bilateral talks with all the member countries that were willing to hold talks with Russia. We’ve held these talks with almost 100 countries. They are in their final stages. After signing the protocol with the Arab Emirates we are planning to hold talks and sign agreements with Saudi Arabia. We may have to settle certain issues with Georgia. They are the two countries that we have to finish bilateral talks with. The second part is related to system issues, the so-called multilateral agreement, which is sometimes called “the working group report”. All the countries participate in it and there is a special working group. It describes certain system terms that are beyond just bilateral terms. This report will be more or less ready in April. We hope to edit it in May together with all countries, taking their remarks into consideration. We are in the final stages of the process of Russia joining the WTO.
RT: Russia's relations with Georgia are not at their the best at the moment. What do you expect to see during the talks with Georgia? Also on May 16 Ukraine will become a WTO member. Don't you think Kiev might slow down the process of Russia joining?
A.K.: Russia is always ready to seek constructive solutions in relations with all countries, especially our close neighbors. The Georgia issue was primarily political. Yet Russia continues with its main approach – working for the unity of Georgia. Our task is to provide security in this area to prevent military conflict. All other issues could be solved by dialogue. When this dialogue is interrupted due to emotional reasons, it is hard. But Russia now is strengthening its ties with Georgia, cancelling visa regulations for many people and resuming all means of communication. We hope that our attitude towards close neighbours will be discussed, understood, and all the questions concerning joining the WTO will be settled. I am also convinced that we will find the right solutions regarding Ukraine. We don't know yet what kind of questions may arise if Ukraine becomes a WTO member. Hopefully the fact that we have been trading partners for many years allows us to say that there are no major problems in this area now. We do not foresee any new arguments, so I think we will be able to solve all the issues with Ukraine if it becomes a WTO member.
RT: What about the EU? Can it change its stand after adding the timber tax? What is the nature of the disagreements between Russia and Finland?
A.K.: There is a unique situation around the export tax. In 2004 Russia and the UN signed a bilateral agreement about Russia joining the WTO, including on timber tax. Russia would observe this agreement if we joined WTO. The rates would be acceptable, but until joining the WTO Russia has the right to have different rates as a non-member. This is a concern for our colleagues from the EU, but we are ready to hold new talks on the issue. I will say it again, Russia will follow all the agreements, including the one from 2004 unless there are changes bilaterally. So I don't see any unsolvable issues.
RT: How do you think Russia will benefit from joining the WTO?
A.K.: Joining the WTO will open the door to world markets for Russian products. No country these days is based only on internal demand. Limiting import does not make any sense either. Russia is completely modernising its industry and services and we need products made by other countries because we either don't have them or they are of worse quality. Many Russian industries need to have access to world markets, free access, without limitation measures and anti-damping investigations, which is happening with dozens of Russian products at the moment. Open trade and competition will benefit Russia. Russia's industry will be more effective, will get new technology and will have its own sectors on the world market.
RT: Some say that if Russia joins the WTO, its economy will not be competitive, especially in the areas of agriculture and banking. Do you think Russia deserves to join the WTO? And how do you feel about the competitiveness of Russian products?
A.K.: The Russian economy is totally competitive. We have observed in the last couple of years that, despite growing imports, the Russian economy has been growing and getting stronger. Our industry takes more from international trade than it gives to it as far as competitiveness goes. So we don't have any doubts. As far as agriculture goes, we have reasonable barriers, which we defended during the talks. But the most important thing, it is obvious to everyone that the food market takes a lot of effort on the part of all producing countries. Higher prices make our products totally competitive and in demand. We have a different problem – limiting our export of certain products from Russia, for example, grain, mineral fertilisers and other things. So we don't see problems in agriculture or any other areas.