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Russia becomes last major world power to join WTO

Russia, the world's ninth largest economy, has joined the World Trade Organization more than two decades after the collapse of Soviet communism. Some Russians are concerned that protected industries are now at risk.

Russia officially became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Wednesday, making it the last major economy to join the global free trade body after 18 years of negotiations.

Many Russians are concerned that joining the WTO will undercut domestic industries that benefit from import tariffs and subsidies. The function of the 157-member WTO is to reduce trade barriers and facilitate global commerce through negotiations and the arbitration of trade disputes.

But supporters of the move in Russia have argued that WTO membership will open Moscow to more foreign investment and ultimately force its companies to become more competitive globally.

"This is a great stimulus for developing the economy and competition," former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin wrote on his Twitter account.

Fears of deregulation

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on WTO membership in late July, after the lower house of parliament - the Duma - had approved the move in a 238-208 vote.

WTO opponents argued that opening the Russian economy to foreign investment would make the country too dependent on multinationals.

"We will be dragged along in the last wagon of a convoy that will be ruled over by multinational companies," Vladimir Zhirinovksy, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, had said during the Duma's July 10 vote.

As a condition of its membership, Russia is obligated to liberalize prices on most goods after a two to three year interim period, according to Russian media sources cited by German news agency dpa. After five to seven years, the prices for more sensitive goods will also face deregulation.

Moscow also made key concessions on state support for farm equipment, shipbuilding and aviation construction. Subsidies for the agricultural sector are expected to decline from a projected $9 billion (7.22 billion euros) in 2012-2013 to $4.4 billion by 2018.

Potential economic boost

The Moscow-based investment bank Renaissance Capital has estimated that Russia's $1.9 trillion economy could see an 11 percent increase in gross domestic product (GDP).

"Accession into international institutions such as the WTO lends Russia the credibility it needs to shore up the country's investment environment," Renaissance Capital said in a special report.

EU welcomes Russia's WTO entry

The European Union's trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, said WTO membership would facilitate the modernization of Russia's economy and open business opportunities for both Brussels and Moscow.

"Today's WTO accession is a major step for Russia's further integration in to the world economy," De Gucht said in a release.

The Russian economy is largely dependent on the energy sector. Russia became the world's largest oil producer in 2011 and is the second largest natural gas producer, holding the largest reserves in the world.

The pacific state of Vanuatu also joined the WTO on Wednesday. Countries that are not WTO members include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Belarus, Algeria, Bosnia, Serbia, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

slk/ipj (AFP, dpa)