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Pressure Mounts on Georgia over Russia's WTO Membership

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, September 13
Washington does not make any demands on Georgia over allowing the Russian Federation to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) - Temur Iakobashvili, Georgian envoy to the US stated on September 12.

Iakobashvili argued that two interlocking principles guided the US position in this case. "The US position is very simple – the US supports the Russian Federation in joining the WTO, as this way is the more civilized way of maintaining trade relations. At the same time, this does not mean that the Russian Federation definitely will become a member of the WTO. The US has two clear positions. The first - if Russia desires WTO membership it should negotiate with Georgia, and the US is not about to make concessions in this respect. The second is that the US upholds the WTO's consensus principle," Iakobashvili said, referring to the fact that all current WTO members must consent before allowing new countries to join the organization.

According to Iakobashvili, discussions have been held in the US in support of Russia’s bid for membership of the organization, however “there has been no mention that Russia must become a WTO member." At the same time, the envoy claims that there is no common position concerning the issue in Russia either, “there are people in the Russian government who are still not willing for the state to become a WTO member.”

Iakobashvili also mentioned the US stance regarding "Georgia’s future leadership”. Iakobashvili said that “Georgia itself is important for the US and America is only interested in what kind of authorities are in power, what political values they have and not in concrete figures. The issue should be decided by the Georgian people and the United States is not involved in it.”

These issues are very tangible among Georgian opposition figures, analysts and Georgian society at large. The question of which concrete figure will become the future leader of the country is a topic that is getting hotter and hotter and will likely impact the Russia-WTO issue. Different opposition representatives and analysts have already expressed their views regarding possible presidential candidates from the ruling party. As for the candidacy of the newly-empowered prime minister’s post, the opposition Christian Democrats (CDM) state that “Saakashvili wishes to take the position, however simply wishing will not be enough." A representative of the CDM, Giorgi Akhvlediani, said that there is no international force which would support Saakashvili’s candidacy for the post - "that is the message we received in meetings in both the US and in Europe. If Saakashvili were to become the prime minister, he would have no international support, which would be bad for him and for the country as well."

Some opposition parties believe that regardless of who is in power in Georgia, Russia will in any case become a member of the WTO and Georgia will be in no position to create obstacles to this. “The American president's statement that by the end of the year Russia should become a member of the WTO and that the US will assist in this process was deeply significant. It was a serious message for Georgia as well, that nothing will block Russia's membership in the organization," Nestan Kirtadze, one of the leaders of the opposition Labour Party, told The Messenger.

Analyst Soso Tsiskarishvili also spoke with The Messenger and said “Russia’s membership of the WTO is in the interests of Washington, Brussels and Georgia as well. The more Russia is attached to the civilized world, the more it will be affected by the democratization process. Nnegotiations with Russia concerning the [WTO] issue should start. Georgia would have a chance to open up trade with Moscow, as the funds which the Georgian authorities received from the US after 2008 will be depleted very soon and our authorities, with such an unlimited appetite, have a desire to get assistance in other ways. This might push Georgia into agreeing to Russia’s participation in the WTO. However, I don’t think that the Georgian side will have all its preconditions satisfied," Tsiskarishvili said.