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    Russia may not join WTO by end of 2007 - Gref

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    Russia's economic minister said Wednesday the country might fail to join the World Trade Organization by the end of 2007.

    MOSCOW, September 13 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's economic minister said Wednesday the country might fail to join the World Trade Organization by the end of 2007.

    Russia has yet to complete WTO talks with Costa Rica and the United States.

    German Gref said Russia was expected to hold "very difficult talks" with the U.S. this fall, as well as a round of multilateral talks.

    "I cannot declare precise timeframes," he said. "I hope it [Russia's accession to the WTO] happens by the end of 2007, but it may happen later."

    However, he said he hoped for a constructive completion of WTO talks with the U.S. "I hope we will come to terms with our American partners," Gref told journalists.

    The minister said that for Russia to join the organization, amendments should be introduced to the Civil Code regarding copyright protection and agriculture law. He said the remaining laws have been brought into line with the norms of international law.

    Gref said the copyright protection issue was the most important. "In this case, the interests of our partners fully correspond with our interests," he said.

    The minister also said that following a seven-year transition period the average weighted rate of import duty would be lowered to 6.9% from the current 10.2%. As for the most sensitive sector - agriculture - the average weighted rate of import duty will go down to 18.9% from 21.5%, he said.

    "Duties will not be cut on any kind of agricultural products made in Russia in sufficient amounts to saturate the domestic market," Gref told members of the lower house of Russia's parliament.

    He said Russia retained the right to maintain meat quotas until 2009, as well as the option to extend them if necessary, even after 2009.

    Gref also said Russia's foreign partners removed the issue of leveling out domestic and external prices for Russian gas from the talks' agenda, with Russia's only commitment being that the gas price will not be less than its prime cost.

    Following WTO admission, Russia will retain the right to grant subsidies and benefits on investment agreements in the automotive industry (customs benefits for imports of Semi Knock Down assembly components).

    "This is one of the mechanisms to prepare Russia's automotive industry to WTO admission," Gref said. He said investment agreements will be concluded with international automakers until the end of bilateral WTO admission talks. Following admission, there will be no new agreements, whereas the current ones will remain in force until their term expires.

    The Russian economic development and trade minister also said that after its admission to the WTO, Russia intended to help Belarus join the organization.

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