Russia, U.S. reach WTO agreement
MOSCOW -- Russia announced Friday that it has reached a bilateral agreement with the U.S. on accession to the World Trade Organization, an accord that would help realize a major goal of President Vladimir Putin, who has resented the fact that his...
MOSCOW -- Russia announced Friday that it has reached a bilateral agreement with the U.S. on accession to the World Trade Organization, an accord that would help realize a major goal of President Vladimir Putin, who has resented the fact that his country is the only major economy not to have joined the global trade body.
"Government delegations from both countries agreed on all principal conditions of this agreement," the Russian Economic Development and Trade Ministry announced Friday evening.
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab confirmed the agreement, saying in a statement that the two countries had reached "an agreement in principle," and hoped to sign a formal document next week at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Vietnam.
President Bush and Putin are expected to toast the accord when Bush stops off in Moscow on Nov. 15 on his way to the forum.
The agreement "is a clear indication of Russia's efforts to participate fully in and benefit from the rules-based global trading system," Schwab said.
The WTO promotes free trade and adjudicates disputes among its 149 member nations.
"It's a political victory [for Putin] ... as the desire to join and achieve equality in international trade and relations was a major domestic issue," said Natalia Turdyeva, an analyst at the Center for Economic and Financial Research and Development in Moscow. "And, economically, one of [the] most significant effects will be the increasing confidence of foreign investors in the Russian market, which is a goal of the administration."
The agreement ends politically charged negotiations that dragged on for years as the two sides tried to resolve differences over the import of American agricultural products, the piracy of U.S. intellectual property here, and access to the banking and insurance sectors for American companies, among other issues. The exact terms of the agreement were not immediately released.
Russian frustration over the failure to reach agreement sooner had seeped into other areas. Analysts here linked the unresolved talks to the recent decision of Aeroflot, the state airline, not to purchase 22 Boeing aircraft, and to the exclusion of Western energy companies from the development of a giant natural gas field in the Barents Sea.
Putin had hoped to finalize an agreement before last summer's summit of the leaders of the Group of Eight leading industrial democracies. Failure to do so contributed to a general deterioration in relations between Moscow and Washington, as the two governments traded barbs over Russia's democratic development and the conduct of Russian foreign policy.
Whether the final agreement will now improve the state of relations is uncertain. Russia is an increasingly self-confident power that resents aspects of the U.S. global role, particularly its military and diplomatic courting of former Soviet republics. And the Kremlin, which is broadly comfortable with Bush, is suspicious that the newly Democrat-controlled Congress could further aggravate tensions.
Congress cannot block the accord but it must approve legislation granting Russia permanent normal trading relations before American companies can be certain of benefiting from Russia's membership in the WTO.
For the moment, Russian analysts believe the deal will ease strains.
"Russian-American relations can only benefit from this," said Ksenia Yudayeva, an analyst at the Center for Strategic Research in Moscow. "Putin started his presidency with the promise of WTO accession and it's a very important, symbolic thing for him to complete this."