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Russia WTO Bid Still Faces Big U.S. Obstacles


President Barack Obama (R) met with his Russian counterpart on April 1 in London

President Barack Obama (R) met with his Russian counterpart on April 1 in London

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Russia still faces a tough road to join the World Trade Organization despite a push on April 1 from U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

"From the business community perspective, everybody wants this over and done with," said Michael Considine, director for Eurasian issues at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But Moscow must first fulfill antipiracy and other commitments it made to the United States in 2006, as well as finish talks with all WTO members, Considine said.

Obama and Medvedev, meeting in London on the eve of a Group of 20 developed and developing countries summit, said in a joint statement they would instruct their "governments to make efforts to finalize as soon as possible Russia's accession into the World Trade Organization."

The administration of former President George W. Bush hoped in early 2008 to finally usher Russia into the WTO after years of negotiations. But the political fallout from Russia's short war with Georgia in August set those talks back for months.

Now, as Obama and Medvedev are trying to rebuild relations, congressional Democrats are complaining that Russia still has not fulfilled all of the commitments it has made to the United States to crack down on copyright piracy.

Current Benefits At Risk


They urged Obama in a March 26 letter to insist Moscow honor all of those commitments before he signs off on a final WTO accession package. They also recommended Obama suspend U.S. trade benefits for Russia until it significantly improves its enforcement of intellectual property rights.

The U.S. Trade Representative's office did not respond to a request for more information on Obama and Medvedev's pledge.

But in an annual report on March 31 on foreign trade barriers, the trade office said "Russia has much work to do" to bring its laws into compliance with WTO rules and to honor bilateral deals it has made to join the world trade body.

Russia also must resolve multilateral concerns over its intellectual property rights regime, support for agriculture, import licensing of products with encryption technology, operation of state-owned enterprises, and barriers to agricultural imports, the trade office said.

Many U.S. lawmakers still oppose lifting a Cold War-era restriction on trade with Russia known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment, despite the recent recommendation of a bipartisan experts group that Congress do that to help repair relations between the two countries.

The measure tied normal trade relations with the Soviet Union and other centrally planned economies to the rights of Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate freely.

Russia has been in compliance since 1994, but most U.S. lawmakers have insisted Moscow finish negotiations to join the WTO before they vote to lift the measure and establish permanent normal trade relations, referred to as PNTR.

So far, there has been no detectable change in that sentiment, a Senate aide who works on trade said.

Once Russia reaches a final deal to join the WTO, the United States will be obligated to grant PNTR in order to share in the market-opening concessions that Moscow has made, said Doug Goudie, director for international trade policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.

That could be a tough political fight, but hopefully not as difficult as it was to persuade Congress to approve PNTR for China in 2000, Goudie said.

A WTO deal that opens the Russian market to more U.S. exports would be a boon to U.S. manufacturers at a time when they desperately are looking for new sales, Goudie said.
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