The World Trade Organization agreed Friday to allow Russia to become its newest member, giving a critical boost to the ailing economy of its biggest trading partner, the European Union.
Until now, Russia has been the only member of the Group of 20 leading world economies still outside the WTO, the global body that sets legally binding rules for international trade and mediates disputes.
The deal is expected to quickly increase EU exports by some euro4 billion ($5.2 billion) a year, EU trade officials say. Under the deal, Russians will be able to buy European-made goods at far lower prices and to sell its oil and gas more efficiently.
The 27-nation EU bloc is Russia's biggest trading partner for agriculture, fuels, mining and manufacturing. The EU buys 52 percent of Russia's exports, including the fossil fuels that keep Europe running. Russia, in turn, is third-biggest customer for EU exports, after the U.S. and China.
Elvira Nabiullina, Russia's minister of economic development, hailed the deal and said Russia is ready to help counter the risks of the global economic slowdown.
"We are ready to counter these risks actively," she told WTO trade ministers, just after their decision to welcome Russia.
The agreement is also likely to provide a boost for Russia's heavily state-managed economy, trade experts say, because it would bring the nation under international trade rules that could give outside investors more confidence.
"The EU has high expectations of Russia as a responsible partner able to respect rules," EU trade chief Karel De Gucht told the WTO.
As a WTO member, Moscow would provide annual reports to other members on its continuing privatization and gradually lower its average tariff ceiling to 7.8 percent from its current 10 percent.
A final hurdle to joining the WTO was the deal Russia signed with Georgia, its neighbor with whom it waged a brief war in 2008, to allow a neutral company to monitor all trade between the two nations.
Russia would become a WTO member next year, 30 days after it notifies WTO that the Russian Duma has ratified membership.