BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- The European Union, the United States, and Russia will hold detailed ministerial talks next week on Moscow's bid to join the World Trade Organization, diplomats said on May 29.
"This is a shift from the technical level to gauge the temperature at a high political level to see if the outstanding issues can be resolved soon," a diplomat familiar with preparations for the talks told Reuters.
"They need to see if the negotiations have reached the end-game," he said.
EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton, United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk, and Russian Economy Minister Elvira Nabiullina will meet in the margins of the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, which starts on June 4.
Russia, which has been trying for more than a decade to join the 153-member WTO, is the largest economy to remain outside the global trade watchdog. All WTO members must approve Russia's membership bid for the country to join.
"A great deal of work remains, particularly by the Russian Federation, in order to take the accession process forward to the finish line," said Nefeterius McPherson, a spokeswoman for USTR Kirk.
The WTO's working group on Russian WTO membership negotiations met earlier this week in Geneva, which both the USTR and the group's chair described as positive.
"Some progress was made on the draft texts put forward by the Russian side spelling out commitments in six areas," said Stefan Johannesson, the group's chair and also Iceland's envoy to the European Union, in an interview.
"I think there is a certain sense of urgency, not least on the part of the Russian side, to try and speed things up."
The EU and Russia also discussed Moscow's WTO membership application at a summit last week.
Moscow's accession stalled after the United States put the issue on ice over its opposition to Russia's military incursion into Georgia in 2008.
A trade spat between Moscow and Washington over a Russian ban on some U.S. meat imports on health concerns related to the recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus -- otherwise known as swine flu -- is also hampering Russia's WTO bid.
The USTR's McPherson said Kirk expects to discuss the "continued and troubling ban" while in Russia.
"These bans have no basis in science, and the ambassador has repeatedly urged Russia to remove them immediately," she said.
A deal aimed at easing tensions was discussed on May 28 and is being considered by both governments.
Moves by Moscow to place duties on imports of timber and cars from the EU, and threats of further tariffs on other goods ranging from shoes to furniture have also hurt its WTO aspirations.
"There are so few issues to be sorted out overall, but next week's WTO members need to be given a clear indication that Russia is serious about solving these issues in the next few weeks," another diplomat said.
"Russia cannot continue anymore with purely political and public declarations. Kirk and Ashton will be clear and they will not beat about the bush. They will want to see progress being made."