Russia to start WTO talks with Vietnam April 1, Cambodia April 4

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MOSCOW, March 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russia will start bilateral talks on joining the World Trade Organization with Vietnam April 1, and with Cambodia April 4, Russia's chief WTO negotiator said Thursday.

"We will start talks with Vietnam in Hanoi Sunday, and talks with Cambodia in Pnompenh will be held April 4-5," Maksim Medvedkov, the director of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry's trade talks department, told a Moscow press conference.

Russia had not planned to hold bilateral talks with Vietnam, but in late 2006 Vietnam became a full-fledged WTO member and voiced its intention to hold talks with Russia.

Medvedkov said Russia had proposed to Vietnam and Cambodia that talks only cover the export products these countries have an interest in, because, he said, this will speed up the negotiating process.

Medvedkov said Monday Russia could complete accession talks in the summer or in late 2007.

"There are two scenarios," he said. "Under the first, talks will be completed by the summer, under the other, by the end of the year. But in any event, talks will be completed in a matter of months."

Moscow has signed bilateral protocols with all but four WTO members and is yet to complete multilateral talks with its trade partners within the global trade body.

Vietnam joined the WTO last year and requested talks with Russia in March, an economics ministry official said Monday.

"Russia has already sent its proposals on mutual access to commodity and services markets," the ministry said.

Moscow is also to hold negotiations with Cambodia - a new WTO member that requested talks in January - to resolve a dispute with its former Soviet ally Georgia, which withdrew from the bilateral WTO agreement after Moscow banned key Georgian exports last March, and to sign a protocol with Guatemala.

Medvedkov, who held a regular round of accession talks in Geneva in early March, said the 58-member Working Party on Russia's accession would gather no earlier than April.

Medvedkov said about 20 issues were still to be resolved during the talks. The main sticking points include state agricultural subsidies, which Russia plans to raise from the current $3.5 billion to $9.5 billion, and efforts to bring national legislation in compliance with international standards.

In November, Russia secured a long-desired bilateral agreement with the United States, removing the largest obstacle to its WTO membership. Access for foreign companies to Russia's insurance and banking sectors, and wide-spread piracy were among the main stumbling blocks in bilateral WTO talks.

Russia agreed it would allow up to 100% foreign ownership of its banks and investment companies when it joins the WTO, and that it will let foreigners enter its insurance market after a transition period. Until then, foreign insurance companies will be able to operate in Russia through subsidiaries, with foreign investment in the sectors to be limited to 50%.

Medvedkov also said Russia has linked a strategic partnership agreement with the European Union to its accession to the WTO.

"This is one of the reasons why Russia does not want to delay joining the WTO," he told journalists.

A Russian official said March 2 that a new partnership agreement between the EU and Russia will only be signed in three to four years, when the EU defines its priorities in relation with Russia.

The talks on a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) to replace the current one, which expires in late 2007, were set to begin at the Russia-EU summit in Helsinki in November, but Poland vetoed the talks over Moscow's ban on meat imports from the EU newcomer.

The head of the Russian Foreign and Defense Policy Council presidium, Sergei Karaganov, told a news conference in Moscow that the delay in starting the talks came about not only because Poland vetoed them, but also because EU countries have not yet decided on the nature of their long-term cooperation with Russia.

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