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Germany

Merkel treads carefully as Putin pushes for closer cooperation

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced support for Russia's efforts to join the World Trade Organization in 2011, but rebuffed Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's call for a free trade area.

Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin

Merkel and Putin don't see eye to eye on everything

During his visit to Berlin, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin voiced hope that his country could join the World Trade Organization (WTO) next year, saying that he thinks it "is possible and our wish."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel chimed in with a similar view. "It is also desirable for us because of the G-20, with Russia being a member of the G-20," she told reporters in the capital on Friday evening.

"We would like to finally complete the Doha round of trade talks, and we would very much like to do this with Russia as a WTO member," she added.

Russia started its campaign to join the WTO in 1993 and is the last major economic power not to be a member.

Gorky Automobile Plant in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

Russia still protects its industries with import tariffs

Gently rebuffed

But Merkel was less enthusiastic about Russia's proposal for a free trade area from Lisbon to Vladivostok, which Putin had suggested in a guest editorial in the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung ahead of his visit.

Germany generally welcomes the idea of closer economic ties, but Merkel said a free trade area between Russia and the European Union was "more of a question for the future."

"We are neighbors and, just like in other areas, we will intensify our partnership step by step," she said and stressed that if there was to be a free trade zone, all of the countries would have to be members of the WTO.

But Merkel made it clear that she does not see Russia ever joining the eurozone, whereas Putin said he was "open" to such cooperation.

Gazptom logo

Gazprom stands to lose out under the EU's gas market liberalization plans

German sympathy

Merkel voiced sympathy for Russia's criticism of EU plans that would see infrastructure and distribution separated in the gas sector. Speaking to business leaders in Germany earlier in the day, Putin said the proposals amounted to "uncivilized robbery."

Under the plans, companies like Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom would have to sell its stake in overland pipelines in EU territory to allow smaller players access to the gas markets.

"During the negotiations [in the EU] Germany has never been a fan of that philosophy," she said and promised to argue Russia's case in Brussels.

Author: Nicole Goebel (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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