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Tension over Russia WTO Dispute Grows

By Ernest Petrosyan
Wednesday, October 26
Enduring international turmoil about Russian-Georgian bargaining over Russia’s WTO entry continues. As the Financial Times reports, the US and the EU are trying to coax Georgia to drop its resistance to Russia’s bid for entry to the WTO, warning that time is running short in a long-standing effort to bring Moscow into the fold.

Reports in the Financial Times (FT) analyzed the situation. The prestigious publication quoted western diplomats as making the following statements about Georgia.

Noting in the first place that the US and several European governments have been lobbying for Georgia behind the scenes, the FT reports that “Pascal Lamy, the WTO’s director-general, said on Friday that members should not 'sustain blockage for the pleasure of blockage' and should make good faith efforts to resolve disagreements.”

In the second place, the EU trade commissioner, Karel de Gucht also had some comments on the issue.

EU-Russia relations have been smoothed over and according to Gucht, "the EU and Russia had resolved a dispute over auto parts and no longer had any outstanding issues regarding Moscow’s WTO campaign”.

Drawing attention to the issue, several days earlier Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov had said that there were some ways to enter the WTO without a consensus, though it was another ambivalent statement from Lavrov. The question can be raised: if Russia can be admitted to the WTO without Georgia’s green light, then why do Russians continue to participate in fruitless talks, which so far continue to remain talks about talks.

In contrast, a day later, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze, said that, “we are ready to welcome Russia into the WTO as soon as Russia agrees to our preconditions”. “This is our principle issue that cannot be disregarded," said Kalandadze on Monday.

Contrary to some reports, she also denied that any pressure had been exerted by the international community on Georgia with regard to Russia’s integration into the WTO.

Kalandadze also said at her Monday briefing that, “the international community is well aware that this is a fundamental principle that should be protected, and at the same time, it is a legitimate demand from Georgia’.

Writing further on the issue, the Financial Times article also reported that “all sides are hoping to conclude an agreement in time for the WTO’s December ministerial meeting, which would provide a rare celebratory note at a time when prospects for the Doha round of global trade talks remain grim, and there are signs of growing protectionism around the world”.

According to the article, Tbilisi’s objections stem from the continuing rancor over its 2008 war with Russia. Swiss efforts to mediate the dispute have so far failed to yield a breakthrough. The parties are set to meet on Tuesday in a potentially pivotal session after informal talks last week.

Diplomats in Europe "are fearful that the political momentum to close a deal could evaporate with Vladimir Putin’s expected return to the presidency next year. Putin has long been ambivalent about the WTO, and has instead been pushing for a regional customs union involving Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine”, the Financial Times reports.