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Bilateral agreement with the U.S. on Russia's accession to WTO could be signed by the two countries' leaders at an Asia-Pacific summit in Vietnam November 18-19
A bilateral agreement with the U.S. on Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) could be signed by the two countries' leaders at an Asia-Pacific summit in Vietnam November 18-19, Russia's economics minister said Monday. German Gref told President Vladimir Putin: "We have completed talks with the U.S. on all the main issues. We just have to resolve some technical issues and prepare the documents for signing." "We have ample opportunity to finish our work and draft the documents by next weekend, and we will do our utmost to ensure the signing of the agreement by you and President [George W.] Bush," the minister said. Russia, the largest economy outside the world's leading trade body, wanted to sign a protocol with Washington at Russia's debut summit of the Group of Eight nations July 15-17, but the deadline was moved back to October. Negotiations with the U.S. broke down in July over differences on agriculture, specifically meat. The development was unexpected, since the main point of contention throughout the talks had been access of financial services companies to the Russian market and the lack of intellectual property rights protection in Russia. Gref said the sides have reached compromises on the presence of foreign banks in Russia and on agriculture, and that he and U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab will sign a protocol on the completion of the Russian-U.S. WTO talks during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Hanoi. A separate agreement on intellectual property rights protection in Russia will also be signed in the Vietnamese capital. Another obstacle to Russia's WTO membership is the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which is still in force for Russia but was under debate during the term of the Republican-majority Congress. Russia has demanded Washington abolish the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which restricted trade with the former Soviet Union and remains in force for Russia despite having been lifted for many of its former Communist allies. The move was under debate in the Republican-majority Congress, but experts say the amendment is unlikely to be scrapped under the Democrats, who won congressional elections last week. The Democrats have been more critical of Russia's potential entry to the global trade body. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment links U.S. trade benefits, known as Normal Trade Relations (NTR), to the emigration and human rights policies of Communist or formerly Communist countries. Gref said Russia has recently signed a protocol on the completion of talks with Costa Rica, and is looking to sign a similar protocol with Sri Lanka once the issue of the latter's imports of Ceylon tea to Russia is settled. The minister said it could take up to six months to complete multinational talks on Russia's WTO accession. "Russia has yet to settle some dozen problematic issues," he said. Besides the U.S., two ex-Soviet neighbors - Moldova and Georgia - could also block Russia's WTO bid. Russia has yet to secure the approval of Georgia and Moldova, energy-dependent former Soviet allies with whom it is locked in an ongoing diplomatic feud over breakaway regions. Georgia has threatened to block Russia's entry. Georgia withdrew its signature from a protocol on Russia's WTO accession bid in July, until, it said, Russia changed its "discriminatory" customs regime on Georgian exports. Moscow said the move was more a matter of politics than economics. Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi deteriorated further in a tit-for-tat conflict following a spying row in late September. Moldova is also concerned about its exports of wine and crops to Russia, as well as the value-added tax it pays for Russian natural gas.
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