‘Russia may become WTO member in weeks’

Even with Georgia still opposed to Russia’s WTO accession, it may still become a member through a vote sooner than many expect, the head of Russia’s WTO delegation, Maksim Medvedkov, has told RT.

Russia is the only major economy still outside the WTO and has been attempting to join for almost two decades now (since 1994). But according to Russia’s chief WTO negotiator, the wait is all but over.

“We have concluded almost everything we were supposed to negotiate, but a few technical questions which are still outstanding, and we need not even a few months, but a few weeks or even days,” Medvedkov said.

“The timetable we currently have at our working party – a part of our negotiation body – is extremely tight. We will complete have four more discussions by October 27, and another four are to take place somewhere in mid-November. So we have a schedule and as soon as we implement it, we will be closer to the WTO than we were ever before,” he added.

At present Russia is striving to achieve the approval of the last of the 89 WTO members, Georgia, which has become the final stumbling block. The negotiations have failed time and time again, with the latest Switzerland-mediated solution also rejected by Tbilisi.

Along with an up-to-date cargo monitoring system, Georgia wants international observers to monitor the borders of Abkhazia and the Tskhinval region. Medvedkov believes the latter demand is outside of WTO requirements.

“The requests we receive from Georgia have nothing to do with the WTO. It’s something else. We have proposed to negotiate trade issues with our Georgian colleagues just as we did with all other 88 WTO members, but unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be their aim. And the requests we receive are far beyond the WTO rules,” Medvedkov says not ruling out a WTO voting on Russia’s membership.

“WTO rules clearly state that, if there is no consensus in respect of accession, a voting takes place. That is the rule, but in practice it was used only once in WTO history. Whether or not it can be used in Russia's case is a decision that is up to members,” Medvedkov says. “We had completed our negotiations for market access with all members by 2006. After that we dealt with many different things, and most of them had nothing to do with trade.”

This, however, hardly came as a surprise to Medvedkov, who sees little differences between Russia’s accession and that of China, as “they faced more or less the same problems.”

“Accession of such a vast country as Russia is always a balance between trade and politics. WTO usually tries to isolate itself from politics, but in our case it wasn't always possible,” he said, stressing that he was never forced to negotiate political issues, though many of those did affect his negotiations.

When the WTO membership becomes a reality, exporting companies of course will thrive. But Medvedkov does not share the concerns that industries like agriculture and the automobile industry, which traditionally pin their hopes on government subsidies, will suffer. As Medvedkov notes, contrary to popular belief the WTO does not prohibit subsidizing, but merely regulates it.

“And it is impossible to achieve a complete modernization without having a connection with other markets,” Medvedkov observes.

Overall he sees Russia’s WTO membership as a win-win situation for both the country, which has a “huge interest to see its market based on WTO rules” and the organization members, though at the moment they are trying to get “as many concessions as possible” from Russia.