Russia hoping to complete WTO accession talks in 2006

MOSCOW, July 25 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is seeking to complete negotiations on its accession to the World Trade Organization this year, the country's chief negotiator at the WTO talks said Tuesday.

Maxim Medvedkov said he expected to complete bilateral talks with the U.S. in mid-October and discuss the final version of a report on Russia's accession at a session of the 58-member Working Party on its bid by the end of October, with most of the remaining problems to be resolved "by the end of the year."

The United States remains the only country out of the Working Party with which Moscow has yet to sign a bilateral protocol on its accession. There were hopes that the document would be signed at a July 15-17 summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in St. Petersburg, but a deal failed to materialize because of differences over meat imports.

Medvedkov said Moscow had pledged to allow firms from its WTO partners to establish branches in five or six sectors of Russia's services market, including in architecture, construction and services, but refused to specify whether financial services were among these sectors.

The U.S. had been pushing for permission for its banks to open branches in Russia, but a compromise appeared to have been reached in the run-up to the G8 summit, when Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said branches of insurance companies - though not banks - would be allowed to do so.

But Medvedkov warned that problems also remained with other countries.

Costa Rica and Moldova could block Russia's WTO bid. The Central American country is insisting on a sharp reduction in Russian duties on raw sugar imports and the former Soviet republic is concerned about its exports to Russia of wine and crops, as well as the value-added tax it pays on Russian natural gas.

Russia slapped on ban on imports of both Moldovan and Georgian wine in spring over health concerns.

Georgia said earlier this month it had withdrawn its signature from a protocol on Russia's WTO accession bid until Russia changed its "discriminatory" customs regime on Georgian exports in a move that Moscow said was more a matter of politics than economics.

Medvedkov said Russia was studying Georgia's proposals in relation to the protection of its trademarks, the wine ban and a similar prohibition on Georgian mineral water.

He said talks with Georgia would be held after the study is completed, but this was unlikely to happen before September.

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