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Home stretch

November 3, 2011

After waiting for nearly two decades, Russia appears set to join the World Trade Organization by the year's end after reaching a compromise with rival Georgia. The G20 welcomed the prospect of Russian membership.

Georgian President Saakashvili and Russian President Medvedev
Georgia and Russia broke diplomatic relations in 2008Image: AP

Russia and Georgia reached a tentative compromise agreement on Thursday that would remove the final obstacles preventing Moscow from joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) after an 18-year wait.

Any WTO member state can veto the application of a non-member. Georgia has effectively blocked Russia from joining the trade organization since the two former Soviet republics fought a war in 2008 over the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Moscow and Tbilisi have disputed whether Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be considered Georgian provinces or independent states in their trade relations. Through Swiss mediation, Georgian and Russian negotiators agreed to have international monitors act as customs agents in the disputed regions as opposed to state officials.

Claims of victory

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili declared the compromise a diplomatic victory for Georgia, saying that it effectively confirmed his country's territorial integrity.

"It is a very important principle that even an occupier recognizes international monitoring," Saakashvili said. "Our position was crystal clear: either this, or Russia will not become a WTO member."

WTO headquarters in Geneva
Russia is the largest economy in the world without WTO membershipImage: AP

Russia's chief negotiator, Maxim Medvedkov, said the tentative agreement "is based on our proposal and does not go outside the frameworks of Russia's principled stand." Meanwhile, the leader of South Ossetia expressed his disapproval of the compromise, saying the monitors did not have his consent.

"We have made this position unmistakably clear, and we do not intend to change it," said Eduard Kokoity, South Ossetia's president.

International support

Russia currently has the dubious status of being the largest economy in the world that is not a member of the WTO. The trade organization is set to meet for a ministerial meeting from December 15-17 where Russian membership will be voted on. Moscow has already resolved its outstanding disputes with the United States and the European Union. Other major economies such as China also support Russian membership.

The world's 20 largest industrial economies welcomed the prospect of Russian membership during their summit meeting in Cannes, France, according to German news agency dpa.

"We look forward to welcoming Russia as a WTO member by the end of the year," the G20 members said in a summit declaration.

Author: Spencer Kimball (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Nicole Goebel