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Georgia: Premier Outlines Tbilisi's Stance On Russian WTO Entry


Zurab Noghaideli (file photo) (AFP) Georgia is one of a handful of countries left with the power to block Russia's entry into the WTO. It is also the country with the greatest motivation to do so -- amid mounting tensions between the two countries, Russia systematically blocked the import of Georgian wine, mineral water, and agricultural products, depriving Georgia of its biggest market. So what is Georgia likely to do? RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas spoke to Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli to find out.

RFE/RL: Regarding the World Trade Organization, Georgia's insistence on the 2004 deal, which if I read it right, would assume that Russia will need to agree not to trade with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Do you think that's a realistic demand on Russia?
The EU's pressure on Russia is not the most important issue on our agenda, although we are certainly explaining all the time to our EU partners that Georgia and some of the Georgian issues should definitely be discussed with Russia.


Zurab Noghaideli: If it's not realistic, why did they agree to that in 2004? Again, this is a very principled issue for us and a very principled issue for any WTO member and nobody will allow trade through illegal checkpoints and I think we should be insisting on our previous position again and on the agreement, secondly, which is the most important.


RFE/RL: What kind of verifications mechanisms would you have to have in place for this to be acceptable to you?


Noghaideli: The actual implementation of the decision.


RFE/RL: You would not need any special controls or anything, just Russia's word?


Noghaideli: No, word is not enough. But the implementation of the words.


RFE/RL: And how would you verify this?


Noghaideli: Either when trade is not taking place through these checkpoints at all, or it is legalized and our customs and border guards are present.


RFE/RL: Would that mean some sort of international presence or simply a Georgian presence?


Noghaideli: It could be temporarily an international presence and finally it should be a Georgian presence.


RFE/RL: Are you talking about this to any outside power, like the EU...


Noghaideli: Everybody. Everybody's been aware of our position since 2004. Everybody's aware of our position since then. And I have once again briefed on our position our U.S. and EU colleagues.


RFE/RL: Has anyone offered you any assistance, any backing on this?


Noghaideli: We have discussed it several times and I think that we have the full understanding and backing from our partners.


RFE/RL: Do you feel any pressure from them though?


Noghaideli: No, not really.


RFE/RL: In terms of longer-term developments, if you could just briefly explain what you want the European Union to do next with regard to the "frozen conflicts." Georgia's asked for a number of things. The European Union hasn't really delivered. Are you going to change strategy? Are you going to ask for other things?


Noghaideli: What we're looking forward [to] right now in the frozen conflicts is that a clear plan needs to be developed of the implementation of whatever we had already been throwing down before. We can't only say that... something like 'demilitarization,' simple word you know, that needs to be done -- what needs to be done in October, what needs to be done in November, what needs to be done in December and so on. This is what we're looking forward [to]because we need to address these issues and see the progress in the implementation of those measures. This is what we're looking forward [to]. The EU is going to play a role and certainly the primary role in the case of the South Ossetian conflict is [going to be the] OSCE and, in the case of Abkhazia, it's going to be the United States.


RFE/RL: But what extra measures do you expect the EU to do in the foreseeable future that it's not doing now?


Noghaideli: What we are looking forward [to] is a greater EU role in the conflict-resolution negotiation formats, for instance in the South Ossetian case the four-sided JCC [Joint Control Commission, made up of representatives from Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia, and North Ossetia].... We're looking forward [to] a greater EU and U.S. role in that format and the greater role of the EU in the implementation of those measures, which is a must for the confidence-building measures.


RFE/RL: But the first measure the EU has made pretty clear is not realistic right now and the second measure would imply some sort of EU involvement to put pressure on Russia. That's also something the EU is not really willing to do at this stage.


Noghaideli: At this stage, but I think that we're developing. [And] we have had a significant clearly defined EU position, for instance the Luxembourg communique and yesterday's statement of EU on so-called referendum and elections in South Ossetia so I think that the situation is really developing.


RFE/RL: At the beginning of this year, Georgia seemed to be hoping that the EU could apply more pressure on Russia. That hasn't really materialized and the EU itself is now grappling with its own problems regarding Russia. Do you see any chances here of an enhanced EU role that could benefit Georgia?


Noghaideli: The EU's pressure on Russia is not the most important issue on our agenda, although we are certainly explaining all the time to our EU partners that Georgia and some of the Georgian issues should definitely be discussed with Russia. For instance sanctions -- although sanctions are not that important as is orchestrated xenophobia, which is not simply a Russian-Georgian issue. It goes beyond that significantly and I think that everyone should be raising their voice against whatever has been happening in Russia against ethnic Georgians, whether they are Georgian or Russian citizens. Something like that can not be left, without raising a voice from my point of view. Those are different issues definitely and certainly as we do explain to the European Union our policies, then Russia is also portraying us as a problem creator.

WTO Status Of RFE/RL Broadcast Countries

An exhibition of the history of the WTO in Singapore in 1996 (courtesy photo)

WTO Members:
Armenia: Joined on 5 February 2003.
Croatia: Joined on 30 November 2000.
Georgia: Joined on 14 June 2000.
Kyrgyzstan: Joined on 20 December 1998.
Macedonia: Joined on 4 April 2003.
Moldova: Joined on 26 July 2001.
Romania: Joined on 1 January 1995.

Countries That Are Not Yet WTO Members:
Afghanistan: Submitted its application in November 2004.
Azerbaijan: Submitted its application in June 1997.
Bosnia-Herezgovina: Submitted its application in May 1999.
Belarus: Submitted its application in September 1993.
Iran: Submitted its application in July 1996.
Iraq: Submitted its application in September 2004.
Kazakhstan: Submitted its application in January 1996.
Russia: Submitted its application in June 1993.
Serbia and Montenegro: Submitted separate applications in December 2004.
Tajikistan: Submitted its application in May 2001.
Ukraine: Submitted its application in November 1993.
Uzbekistan: Submitted its application in December 1994.

For more information, click here.

For an exclusive RFE/RL interview with former WTO head MICHAEL MOORE,click here.

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