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Dragging out talks on accession to the World Trade Organization is not in Russia's interests
"A specific timeframe for Russia's accession to the WTO is becoming a key issue. We are interested in completing the package of talks and joining the organization as soon as possible," Maksim Medvedkov, the director of the Russian Economic Development and Trade Ministry's trade talks department, said on Thursday. Medvedkov said Russia had "strong chances of completing talks in December 2005 on certain conditions." "The situation may change in 2006. The WTO can change the rules of the game and can embrace new members, Ukraine, for example. This means the organization will advance new demands to Russia, which will make 'the entrance ticket' more expensive for it," said Russia's chief negotiator with WTO countries. Russia has rounded off bilateral talks on WTO accession with the countries that together account for more than 85% of Russia's trade turnover. "We know the price now - the conditions of our entry to the WTO," Medvedkov said. Medvedkov said some partners continued advancing unacceptable demands. For example, they insist Russia should raise its domestic gas prices to the international level, and demand access to the country's services market. Russia will retain its tariff shelter with the accession to the WTO, said Medvedkov. "No [import] duties will be cut within the first year after the accession," he said. Import duties will decrease gradually, within five-seven years, the period that will depend on a sector. The duties are expected to fall by an average of 25% following the transitional period. The government lowered the duties by 40% overall in recent years, trying to give up protectionism in economics, which was done irrespective of the country's bid to join the WTO, Medvedkov said. Russia's import duties will be at least twice as high as those in the United States and the European Union. "All our duties will be at least 5%," Medvedkov said. Medvedkov assured the tariff shelter for the agricultural sector that had caused the greatest concerns would not be weakened, while some of the agricultural duties would even be raised. "The tariff shelter will not be weakened with respect to any basic product," he said. Medvedkov added the WTO membership would help Russia fight trade discrimination. He said Russia and particularly China were the countries that suffered from discriminatory measures from their trade partners most often. One hundred and three restrictions on Russian products are in effect in 46 WTO member-countries today, which inflicts a $2 billion damage annually.
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