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Russia is in no rush to join the World Trade Organization
Russia is in no rush to join the World Trade Organization, but is seeking beneficial membership terms, the first deputy foreign minister said Monday. "To us, the main thing is the conditions for WTO membership, rather than the [accession] date," Andrei Denisov said. "We will conduct talks as long as is required." Denisov said Russia could survive outside the organization, but membership to the 150-nation body that presides over global trade tendencies was important. Russia's chief WTO negotiator said Monday Russia could complete accession talks in the summer or in late 2007. "There are two scenarios," Maxim Medvedkov said. "Under the first, talks will be completed by the summer, under the other, by the end of the year. But in any event, talks will be completed in a matter of months." Moscow has signed bilateral protocols with all but four WTO members and is yet to complete multilateral talks with its trade partners within the global trade body. Vietnam, admitted to the WTO last year, required bilateral talks with Russia in March, an economics ministry official said Monday. "Russia has already sent its proposals on mutual access to commodity and services markets," the ministry said. Moscow is also still to hold talks with Cambodia - a new WTO member that required talks in January - to resolve a dispute with its former Soviet ally Georgia, which withdrew from the bilateral WTO agreement after Moscow banned key Georgian exports last March, and to sign a protocol with Guatemala. Russia's chief WTO negotiator, Maxim Medvedkov, who held a regular round of accession talks in Geneva in early March, said the 58-member Working Party on Russia's accession would gather no earlier than April. Medvedkov said about 20 issues were still to be resolved at talks. The main sticking points include state agricultural subsidies, which Russia plans to raise from the current $3.5 billion to $9.5 billion, and efforts to bring national legislation in compliance with international standards. In November, Russia secured a long-desired bilateral agreement with the United States, removing the largest obstacle to its WTO membership. Access for foreign companies to Russia's insurance and banking sectors, and wide-spread piracy were among the main stumbling blocks in bilateral WTO talks. Russia agreed it would allow up to 100% foreign ownership of its banks and investment companies when it joins the WTO, and that it will let foreigners enter its insurance market after a transition period. Until then, foreign insurance companies will be able to operate in Russia through subsidiaries, with foreign investment in the sectors to be limited to 50%. "The protection of intellectual property rights was a new aspect of regulations for us as were talks on banking and insurance services," Denisov said echoing Russian negotiators' pleas for concessions for the former state-controlled economy. Denisov said the agreement with the U.S. was "a major step forward," but added Russia had yet to do a great deal to complete the negotiating process.
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