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Europe

EU Backs Russian Entry to WTO

In the first bilateral summit since the EU enlargement, Russia garnered European Union support for Moscow's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

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All smiles in Moscow: Ahern, Putin and Prodi (from left)

The European Union signed a protocol backing Russian accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Friday after a marathon night of negotiations between Russian Economics Minister German Gref and EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy.

Meeting with European Commission head Romano Prodi Russian, Russian President Vladimir Putin opened the EU-Russia summit in Moscow Friday by pointing out that Brussels and Moscow were "capable of finding a compromise in disputed issues."

Where Chechnya and human rights abuses have occasionally soured the atmosphere, this summit has so far been dominated by Moscow's desire to join the 147-member WTO, which Russia has been negotiating for six years.

The EU, Russia's biggest trading partner, had insisted that Moscow raise domestic energy prices to world levels, which it says currently amount to unfair subsidies for Russian industries. Brussels also says Russia should open its banking, financial and telecommunications sectors to foreign competition.

"The EU-Russia agreement is a joint step forward to open markets and trade liberalization in Europe," said Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, the current president of the European Council.

WTO members all have the right to demand applicants sign individual agreements with them. A deal with the EU would put Moscow a big step closer to membership in the organization, though it must still complete agreements with China, Japan and the United States.

Deal on emissions?

Putin confirmed observers predictions that the talks could convince Russia to carefully consider ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on lowering global emissions in exchange for concessions from the EU on WTO entry.

"The EU has met us halfway in talks over the WTO and that cannot but affect positively our position on the Kyoto Protocol," Putin told reporters. "We will speed up Russia's movement toward the Kyoto Protocol's ratification."

The document, which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions widely thought to cause global warming, must be ratified by at least 55 countries that made up no less than 55 percent of global emissions in 1990. Since the United States, the world's largest producer of emissions, has rejected the treaty, only Russian ratification would allow it to come into force.

But climate experts advised Moscow last week against ratifying the treaty, which they said was scientifically unsound and would harm Russian growth. Both the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Kremlin remain undecided on the issue, German broadcaster WDR reported.

Issues remaining after the May 1 EU enlargement will also be on the agenda, including language rights for the Russian minority in Latvia and a fast train corridor from Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave in the Baltics, to Russia proper.

Brussels and Moscow had ironed out the main sticking points only five days before the EU admitted to its ranks eight central and eastern European countries once part of the Soviet Union's sphere of influence.

"Enlargement will ring the EU and Russia closer together, as it brings us new opportunities for cooperation," Ahern told Putin Friday.

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