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    MOSCOW, April 5 (RIA Novosti) - The main round of Russia's talks on joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) will be completed this year, Maxim Medvedkov, the deputy minister for economic development and trade, said at a press conference on Monday. Mr. Medvedkov is the leader of the Russian delegation at these talks.

    "Yes, it is quite real", he said.

    Mr. Medvedkov also noted that in some directions, such as agriculture, no substantial progress has been made. But he is still optimistic: "I hope that by spring next year we will finally clear up all remaining obstructions." According to him, a final version of a WTO working group may be ready in the fall. Based on the working group, Russia will be able to enter the WTO concerning system obligations. By that time, the talks will be over and the relevant bilateral protocols signed.

    For instance, protocols on Russia's joining the WTO with four Eastern European countries will be signed very soon, Mr. Medvedkov said.

    He did not cite what countries in particular but stressed that the signing of these documents was crucial for Russia. By July, Russia hopes to close market-access negotiations with 15-18 countries and end talks on services with 3-4 countries, Mr. Medvedkov said.

    Russia has concluded negotiations to join the WTO with a number of countries - Kyrgyzstan, New Zealand, Israel, Brazil and Slovenia.

    Mr. Medvedkov also said that a regular round of talks on joining the WTO with the European Union would begin in Moscow on April 18. The talks will end on April 22 with a meeting between Russian Economic Development Minister German Gref and EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy.

    Russia will hold talks with Norway and the United States in the spring.

    Energy issues at talks on joining the WTO may be settled by July, Mr. Medvedkov said.

    "I think that we can reach an informal agreement before late May and a formal agreement in July," he specified. He stressed that Russia is not going to change its position on natural gas and electricity prices.

    "The price of electricity and natural gas is among the few acute problems where our position greatly differs from that of our partners," Mr. Medvedkov noted.

    In this issue, Russia recognizes that what is being required of it are beyond the standard WTO requirements.

    Mr. Medvedkov said that the price on natural gas is regional. "It is not a WTO matter but that of bilateral relations between Russia and the European Union," he said. "Russia is a large supplier of gas and the EU a large consumer. We cannot live without each other. We are interested in long-term cooperation, which is to be decided within the framework of the WTO." Russia should not assume obligations on a price for natural gas and electricity because, according to Mr. Medvedkov, the state does not subsidizes these sectors. "We are ready to prove to our partners that these prices [on natural gas and electricity] are not covering the cost of production and are even exceeding it," he said.

    The deputy minister added that the energy component is insignificant in industrial sectors, such as ferrous metallurgy, and constitutes 5%-6% of the cost of metal.

    "Even if we increase the prices of gas 1.5 times, it will not seriously affect the competitiveness of Russian steel makers," said Mr. Medvedkov. "In ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgy, the chemical industry and the production of fertiliser, the high competitiveness of Russian producers does not only depend on the energy component", he specified.

    Russia is not going to change its position on the support for the domestic aviation industry at the talks on its joining the WTO, Mr. Medvedkov said in answer to questions from journalists.

    He recalled that agreements on trade in civil aircraft operate within the WTO. The WTO rejects state subsidies and it requires that import duties on civilian airplanes be reduced to zero.

    "Our position is invariable: we will not joint the present agreement. It is a matter of a remote and uncertain future," Mr. Medvedkov said.

    To him, Russia's partners at the talks are "not in full measure" supporting Russia's position. That is why support for the Russian aviation industry is one of the most poignant questions at the talks, he noted.

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