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EU Says Rise In Russia Duties Could Harm WTO Talks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- The European Union's trade chief has said plans by Russia to increase import duties could harm Moscow's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

"Such a move would be contrary to the spirit of the G20 declaration, and it would not help the WTO accession process which has just gained momentum following the recent EU-Russia summit," Peter Power, spokesman for EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton, said on her behalf.

Russian Deputy Finance Minister Dmitry Pankin said on November 17 that plans by Moscow to sharply raise duties on imported cars to protect domestic producers did not contravene the communique signed at the weekend by G20 leaders, including Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

World leaders pledged not to raise any new trade barriers in the wake of the worst financial crisis in more than 70 years in a bid to prevent a repeat of the upsurge in a wave of protectionism many say contributed to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

"The commission would certainly be concerned if import and or export duties were to be increased and our officials will discuss this with their Russian colleagues next week in Geneva," Power said.

Russia, the world's 10th largest economy, is the biggest country outside the WTO -- the watchdog which sets rules for global trade.

Russia's 15-year-old membership bid stalled after it sent troops into neighboring Georgia to support two breakaway enclaves and Moscow failed to scrap export duties on timber which Brussels says harms its paper-making industries, notably in Finland and Sweden.

But ahead of an EU-Russia summit earlier this month, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he would postpone the introduction of higher timber export tariffs in a bid to ease tensions with the 27-nation bloc and reignite WTO entry talks.