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Ukraine: In Kyiv And Washington, Officials Hope To Boost WTO Bid

Yekhanurov is stumping for WTO membership (AFP) Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov was in Washington today for the first of two days of talks aimed at bolstering Kyiv's economic and trade status. In particular, Yekhanurov is hoping to win U.S. support for Ukraine's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Officials from the global trade body have indicated Kyiv is not likely to gain membership when top WTO decision makers next meet in December. But that hasn't stopped Ukraine from launching a diplomatic offensive in the West, or from pushing a reform platform at home.

Prague, 1 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Prime Minister Yekhanurov has a busy agenda during his two-day trip, meeting with everyone from Vice President Dick Cheney to members of the Ukrainian diaspora.

But his most important meetings are likely to be with business and trade officials who could help Ukraine finally reach its 10-year goal of joining the World Trade Organization.

Jorge Zukoski, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, said that Yekhanurov -- who is traveling with an entourage that includes Ukraine's economy, agriculture, and fuel and energy ministers -- will be seeking accord on several bilateral issues aimed at helping Kyiv's WTO bid.

"There's a few things that are on Ukraine's bilateral agenda -- including WTO accession, the bilateral accord with regards to WTO accession, the graduation from the Jackson-Vannick [trade barrier], as well as achieving market economy status," Zukoski said.

WTO officials, including Director-General Pascal Lamy, have indicated that Ukraine is not likely to gain membership during the body's next meeting in December.

But Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko remains optimistic on the issue. He appears confident Kyiv may still succeed in gaining membership this year, and this week is presiding over a series of parliamentary meetings aimed at passing a package of bills required for Ukraine's WTO entry.

A similar meeting this summer ended in disarray, with angry lawmakers passing only seven of 14 required bills and at times coming to blows over the terms of the reforms.

This time around, talks are reportedly more peaceful. Deputies so far have endorsed two bills, which mainly address procedural issues regarding imports and protection of domestic producers.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko remains optimistic on the issue. He appears confident Kyiv may still succeed in gaining membership this year.

Zukoski says Yushchenko has remained focused on the WTO despite the political turmoil of his first year in office.

"The Ukrainians have been working very diligently to accede to the WTO this year," Zukoski said. "That is one of their main policy priorities. The president has stated that clearly time and time again. His new team that has come into place over the last several months is very attuned to that need and desire of the president."

Yekhanurov came to his post in September promising to bring much-needed stability to a government shaken by disagreements over the radical reforms proposed by his dismissed predecessor, Yuliya Tymoshenko.

An invitation from the WTO would go a long way toward smoothing over Ukraine's many economic difficulties. And observers suggest the president must act fast to take advantage of what is left of his political capital.

"The Ukrainian officials, of course, would like as much as possible to use the window of opportunity -- both internal and external -- that they got after the last presidential elections following the Orange Revolution," said Oleksandr Rohozynskyy, a research director with CASE Ukraine, the Center for Social and Economic Research.

Rohozynskyy said many politicians stand to gain from a WTO green light. This means not only Yushchenko, who may already be looking ahead to reelection in 2009. It also includes the scores of lawmakers who backed the initiative -- and who are facing elections much sooner, in spring 2006.

There is another political angle as well -- Ukraine's relationship with Russia. Both countries are in hot pursuit of WTO membership; this summer, world trade officials surprised many when they suggested it was Kyiv, and not Moscow, that might cross the finish line first.

Rohozynskyy said it's an outcome that could hand Ukraine an unusual advantage over Russia, which has been a dominant neighbor even since the fall of the Soviet Union.

"WTO accession is really a chance for Ukraine to do something ahead of Russia, to do something in the direction of becoming a market economy actually ahead of Russia -- which would be quite good from the political point of view, because it would demonstrate greater political independence on the part of Ukraine," Rohozynskyy said.

For now, however, the debate seems set to continue. Neither Ukraine nor Russia is expected to advance to the WTO in December. That leaves only one country that is likely to join the ranks of the global trade body -- Saudi Arabia.