President Putin wants Russia to join the WTO but is prepared to waitImage: AP
Russia's WTO Ambitions
Karin Kails (nda)
November 15, 2004
For more than 10 years Moscow has been applying the join the World Trade Organization. This week, a working group of around 60 countries is meeting again to discuss Russia's accession to the WTO.
In order for any new country to join the World Trade Organization, every one of the current 148 WTO members has to agree. That's one of the factors facing Russia this week as its accession to the WTO is discussed by a working group of 60 nations.
There are some hard negotiations ahead, for example with the United States, which is demanding stronger protection of copyright in Russia in the battle against music and video piracy.
The Russian Federation has already taken a big step forward towards membership of the WTO. In May, Russia came to an agreement with the European Union.
"Signing a bilateral agreement with EU is quite something because it means signing an agreement with 25 members," said Fabien Delcrois, who represents the EU at the WTO. "But it does not mean that you will get the consensus of the others and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have still have some problems to solve with the Russians."
A step towards membership
The negotiations between the EU and Russia were long and hard. Some say that Russia gave in by agreeing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Others say that the EU gave in because it initially wanted Russia to extend the EU-Russia partnership to include the new EU members who joined in May, a development Russia views with suspicion, as many of the new members are former Soviet states.
Delcrois says that Russia is on the right track, but that the EU will carefully watch the implementation of internal reforms in the country.
"Basically everything is in the hands of Russia." he said. "What is sure is that since the arrival of President Putin in power we have observed an increased commitment. And an intensification of the internal reforms in Russia has helped a lot in accelerating the process"
US stumbling blocks
Even though the agreement with the EU constitutes major progress, some obstacles remain. There are two main issues to be resolved in negotiations with the United States in particular. The US wants to see better protection of intellectual property in Russia, and a different framework for the service and telecommunication market.
Xenia Udayeva, who works for the Carnegie Center think tank in Washington, believes that both sides have to compromise. But she also points out that Russia is an oil exporter, and is therefore not as dependent on WTO membership as other countries are.
"For Russia, becoming a member of the WTO is not that big and I guess this is why the negotiations are taking so long because Russia is not that eager to become a member," she said. "It wants to become a member because everybody else is a member, but it won't have that many benefits."
Nevertheless she believes that Russia will become a member within the next few years -- and that, for the Europeans, would be an important development, not only from a political but also from an economical point of view.