Moscow: There is no reason to delay Russia’s World Trade Organisation membership over the conflict in Georgia, a senior Russian official said, adding its accession could give the body a boost after global trade talks collapsed.
A senior US official said on 13 August that Russian integration into international institutions such as the WTO was at stake because of Moscow’s military operations in Georgia.
“There are no formal reasons to stop these (accession) talks,” the senior Russian official who is close to the membership negotiations said on 14 August.
“The statements that our accession should be delayed because of events in Georgia sound strange,” the source said. “It contradicts basic logic, common sense and promises that were given by the governments of Western countries to Russia.” The source said Russia’s accession could provide a fresh impetus to the trade watchdog after the collapse of the Doha trade talks last month.
Russia is the world’s 10th largest economy and by far the biggest country still outside the WTO.
“After the July crisis, Russia’s accession could have provided support for the organisation, which is experiencing serious systemic problems,” the source said.
The official also said Russia was unlikely to resume trade negotiations with Georgia, already a WTO member, which earlier blocked the accession talks over ex-President Vladimir Putin’s order to establish closer links with its breakaway regions.
“In this situation I do not think that this (resumption of talks with Georgia) is possible. Therefore we will look at other ways of solving the problem,” the source said, adding that WTO rules provided a mechanism for such cases.
Georgia and other ex-Soviet neighbour Ukraine are the only WTO members with whom Russia does not have a bilateral deal.
Before fighting between Russian forces, Russia was nearing the end of its decade-old bid to join the WTO. The more Western-friendly camp in Russia’s government saw membership as an important way to strengthen ties with the West.
Russia is now facing growing international criticism over its military action in Georgia, which may damage its standing in the world and strain relations with the West for years to come.
US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has called for a review of Russia’s bid.
US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said on 13 August that Russia still had some work to do before it was ready to join.
Russia, which currently mostly exports energy and raw materials, seeks WTO membership to gain better access to global markets for the higher added-value goods it hopes to produce after it diversifies the economy away from natural resources. The West seeks better access to Russia’s domestic market as rising incomes fuel demand for Western consumer goods, services and technology. The WTO sets the rules for global trade and provides a mechanism for the resolution of trade conflicts.
“All sides are set to lose (due to a delay of Russia’s accession). Who will lose most is difficult to say,” the source said.
The source said that only when accession talks resume in mid-September would it become clear whether other countries were trying to complicate the negotiations process, and that it was too early to say how Russia may react.