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4 Jan, 2010 08:06

WTO accession key for Russia

As Russia remains the largest economy not in the WTO, further development of trade relations hinges on whether Russia becomes a member.

Desirable but hard to get is how global producers see the Russian consumer. And with the country still not yet a member of the World Trade Organisation, some countries are even seeing sales to Russia falling.

The EU is Russia's main trading partner, accounting for just over half its overall trade turnover.
Trade with the US trails far behind – except for food and even that is under pressure. Volumes of US food exports fell 29% in 2009, wiping out three years of growth.

The main reason was the financial crisis, as consumers cut spending. But trade barriers don’t help. If Russia joins the WTO that could remove several obstacles – and help Russia in the process, says Aleksey Portansky, Head of the Information Office for Russia’s WTO bid.

“First of all – avoiding discrimination on the international markets. Today our business, our economy is discriminated on international markets. For example, metallurgy, fertilizers and some other products."

Russia is the only major international economy outside the WTO. It’s been seeking membership since June 1993. Sixteen years of talks took a surprising twist last June when Russia announced a plan to join the WTO as a Custom Union together with Belarus and Kazakhstan. This move even raised doubts about the seriousness of Russia’s intentions.

“Accession by the Custom Union is not possible. The Legal framework of the WTO doesn’t give the possibility to accede the organization as a Custom Union,” Portansky said.

Russia is yet to decide either it wants to proceed as a Custom Union or pursue WTO membership on its own. But even in case of joining separately, it will seek to join WTO simultaneously with Belarus and Kazakhstan and on equal terms. The negotiations are due to restart at the beginning of 2010.