Russia on cusp of joining WTO after Georgia compromise

Russia finally appears on the verge of success in its 18-year quest to join the World Trade Organisation after Georgia lifted its long-held opposition to Moscow’s membership.

Russia is the only major trading nation that remains outside the WTO, a source of embarrassment for a country that considers itself a major economic power.

Georgia’s opposition was the last stumbling block to Russia’s membership, a politicised stance taken after the two countries went to war over South Ossetia in 2008.

Tbilisi said on Thursday that it had agreed to a Swiss-brokered compromise that allows international monitoring of trade at the disputed borders with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two breakaway Georgian republics that Russia has recognised as independent. Russia must now also accept the proposal.

“From now on, from [the] Georgian perspective, the Russian Federation can become a member of the WTO provided that it also agrees to the proposal,” the Georgian government said. Referring to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it added that it was “fully aware that these talks were not the appropriate forum to reverse the ongoing illegal occupation of 20% of the Georgian territory by the Russian military”.

Russia has indicated that it hopes to become a WTO member by the end of the year. A ministerial conference has been set for December. Yet some analysts say the deal may be put off until next year so it can be signed once Vladimir Putin returns to the presidency.

Moscow continues to face a strong anti-WTO lobby that supports nationalist, protectionist measures. Last week, President Dmitry Medvedev said “we will survive” if the years-long quest to join the trade body fails.

Russia and the European Union finalised their negotiations on Russia’s accession last week. Moscow first applied to join the WTO in 1993 in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

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