Long wait on WTO accession nears close

After the longest ever accession process key players say Russia is closing in on WTO membership, but a 17 year wait has local business people saying they will believe it when it is done.

Russia is the biggest economy outside the trade body and has been trying to negotiate a place in the organisation for over 17 years, with the talks continuing this week. Russia seems to be closer than ever to joining the World Trade Organization, with a leading American lawmaker William Burns said that the country could finalize its entry to the WTO by the 1st of October.

However, Boris Titov, head at Business Russia, says the negotiation process will still be complicated by the need to coordinate issues with its partners in the customs union.

“It’s more difficult now to access, because we first have to do our internal market with Belarussia and Kazakhstan and then 3 of us should think how to participate. Now the new negotiation starts and, now we have to understand who is negotiating, Russia or from the 3 parties, or from 1 part.”

Moscow has previously accused Washington of blocking its membership, and is still waiting for a repeal of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment. This key requirement for WTO accession links trade relations to the issue of Jewish migration – long after there was any restriction on any nationality wishing to migrate from Russia.

Businessmen say Russia will join the trade organization at some point, but Andrey Danilenko, President at Russian Farms Group, worries whether the terms will give time to Russian companies to gradually adopt to the new environment.

“For us as a business the biggest concern is that there should be a balanced approach where the conditions provided for the terms of entering WTO are acceptable from the standpoint of a transition period. So that we could slowly make the transition.”

This latest assurance of imminent membership is just the latest. Pesident Dmitry Medvedev during his recent visit to the US spoke of support for ’Russia’s rapid inclusion in the WTO.
But the prime minister’s efforts to protect local industry, such as import duties on foreign cars, contradict WTO rules. Few will believe that membership is coming, until they see signatures on paper.