WTO approves Russia's membership after marathon

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 19, 2011 4:37 AM
WTO approves Russia's membership after marathon

By Tom Miles and Douglas Busvine

GENEVA/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia was admitted into the World Trade Organisation on Friday after 18 years of negotiation, finally binding it into the global economy two decades after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Russia's $1.9 trillion economy was the largest outside the WTO, and accession will help reduce its dependence on energy exports that left it cruelly exposed to the oil price collapse of 2008.

Binding Russia, with the second-largest nuclear arsenal after that of the United States, into a rules-based club should help limit hazards of a repeat of regional conflicts like its 2008 war with Georgia.

"This result of long and complex talks is good both for Russia and for our future partners," President Dmitry Medvedev said in a message to a WTO ministerial meeting in Geneva that formally approved Russia's membership.

Russia now has six months to ratify its membership and would become a member 30 days later.

Even by the standards of trade talks, Russia's negotiations have been tortuous, suffering a series of reverses during the 12-year rule of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, now planning a return to the presidency, which he held from 2000-08.

Negotiations were close to a result in 2009 when Putin, frustrated at additional demands from existing members, launched a regional trade bloc that torpedoed the accession process.

Talks only resumed in earnest in late 2010 and achieved a critical breakthrough in October when Russia finalised terms with the United States and the European Union.

Agreement of a Swiss-brokered border monitoring deal for two Georgian regions that broke away after a five-day war with Russia in August 2008 cleared the final stumbling block to a deal.

"I just happen to know a few things about marathons -- the last mile is the worst, the toughest," WTO head Pascal Lamy told a ceremony. "The best moment in a marathon is where you cross the finishing line."

(Reporting by Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay, Writing by Douglas Busvine)