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Russian WTO negotiator upbeat about Geneva talks

A Russian negotiator was optimistic Friday about the results of a regular round of talks in Geneva on the country's accession to a global trade body.
GENEVA, March 2 (RIA Novosti) - A Russian negotiator was optimistic Friday about the results of a regular round of talks in Geneva on the country's accession to a global trade body.

To join the 150-nation World Trade Organization, Russia must sign bilateral protocols and complete multilateral talks with all its trading partners in the organization.

Throughout the week, multilateral consultations have been held to settle differences on agriculture and sanitary measures, along with around 30 bilateral meetings on separate issues, including intellectual property protection.

"The good news is that all these meetings have clarified the tasks we must solve in the coming month or month and a half in order to advance to the final stage of Russia's accession to the WTO," said Maksim Medvedkov, who heads the trade negotiations department in Russia's economics ministry.

The official session of the Working Party on Russia's accession to the WTO is unlikely to be held earlier than April.

Medvedkov said that state agricultural subsidies were crucial to the discussion, and added that technicalities rather than specific figures had been involved.

"Generally speaking, the result is also positive because it is clear what we must do to settle all technical issues in these important talks," he said.

The Cairns Group, which unites the world's leading exporters of agricultural products, have called on Russia to maintain the current level of state subsidies of agriculture at around $3.5 billion, without raising them to the targeted $9.5 billion.

Sugar producers claimed that sugar industry regulations in Russia do not correspond to WTO agreements and should be eased.

A number of WTO members, particularly the United States, have demanded that Russia improve the enforcement of copyright laws and that proper amendments be introduced to the Civil Code, which comes into effect January 1, 2008.

The parties considered Part 4 of the Civil Code during the talks, with calls for more effective amendments.

"We will continue comparing the provisions of Part 4 of the Civil Code with WTO norms, given the countries' concerns," Medvedkov said.

Talks on sanitary, veterinary and phytosanitary measures ended with an agreement that Russia will prepare a document in the near future that would attest to the compliance of Russian laws with WTO norms.

Russia's economics ministry expects the multilateral talks to complete by mid-2007.

Russia held bilateral meetings in Geneva with many WTO members, including the U.S., Brazil, Canada and the European Union.

The countries said they were concerned about Russia's plans to revise some laws that were adopted two or three years ago to bring legislation into harmony with WTO laws. They said that could instigate a new series of talks.

Russia had completed talks with all 58 members of the Working Party, when Cambodia, which became a WTO member in 2004, required bilateral talks with Russia.

"Naturally, we will hold talks, possibly in April, and we hope they will not drag out," Medvedkov said.

Trade between Russia and Cambodia currently totals $9 million, with Russia importing Cambodian textile products and exotic fruit and vegetables, Medvedkov said.

In late January, Russia completed talks in Geneva with another WTO trade partner and former Soviet ally, Georgia, which had withdrawn its signature from a bilateral protocol after Moscow banned key Georgian exports last March.

An official in Russia's economics ministry said at the time that Georgia had removed all its objections but one - the closure of what it calls illegal customs checkpoints on the Russian border with Georgia's two self-proclaimed republics.

Tbilisi said Russia must stop trading with the breakaway regions, and that all goods must pass through checkpoints run by the central government.

Medvedkov said the issue of Russia's trade with Abkhazia and South Ossetia was related more to customs administration than market access.

Russia signed a WTO deal with Moldova, another Western-leaning ex-Soviet nation that is already a member of the trade body, late last year after lifting a similar ban on Moldovan wine and meat exports.

In November, Russia secured a long-desired bilateral agreement with the United States, removing the last major obstacle to its WTO membership.

Russia also signed bilateral protocols with El Salvador and Costa Rica January 24, but has yet to sign a protocol with Guatemala.

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