HANOI, November 19 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's economics minister on Sunday hailed the signing of a final protocol on the country's accession to the World Trade Organization with the United States as a "historic step," one that would help it integrate into the global economy.
The agreement, signed by German Gref and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab on the sidelines of this weekend's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, sets the stage for Russia's entry into the world's largest trade body.
"This is a historic, ultimate step, which heralds Russia's return onto the market track, to equal competition on the world market," Gref told reporters after the signing ceremony.
He said Russia will make every effort to protect intellectual property rights, one of the major issues to have impeded the deal, along with restrictions on U.S. meat exports and on the access of American companies to the Russian banking and insurance sectors.
"All our actions will be aimed at creating favorable conditions that would ensure maximum protection for copyright holders," he said.
Russia has signed a binding blueprint for measures to improve copyright protection and to stop piracy and counterfeiting of foreign goods before it joins the WTO.
It has also agreed to cut customs tariffs on U.S. agricultural and manufactured goods and to liberalize its banking sector.
The U.S., for its part, has pledged to guarantee the safety of its pork and beef supplies to Russia in compliance with requirements of the international veterinary watchdog.
Gref said Central Bank Deputy Chairman Andrei Kozlov, slain in a contact-style killing in Moscow two months ago, had been instrumental in bringing Russia's WTO accession talks with the U.S. to completion.
"I would like to thank our colleague, who did a lot to prepare the financial part of the agreement," he said.
Kozlov, who oversaw an ambitious campaign against money laundering in Russia's banking system, was gunned down on September 13, and died in hospital the following day. His revocation of licenses from unscrupulous banks is widely believed to have been the main motive behind the killing.
Agreements signed with the U.S. alongside the bilateral protocol on Russia's WTO accession allow foreign companies to own up to 100% in Russian banks and to operate on the country's insurance market through local subsidiaries. But it will retain the right to limit direct foreign investment in banking and insurance if the ratio of foreign investment to total investment in the sector exceeds 50%.
Russia will have to consolidate the bilateral agreements it has signed with 57 WTO countries before it is able to join the trade club. Gref said this could be done by the middle of 2007. But Georgia and Moldova, both angry with Russia over export bans on their wine and mineral water, have threatened to block Russia's 13-year-old WTO bid.
Another remaining obstacle is the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which tied trade with the former Soviet Union to the rights of Jews to emigrate from the country. The Soviet-era trade restrictions will be harder to remove now that the U.S. Democratic Party, less inclined to liberalize trade than the Republicans, has won a majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate alike.
Gref said the issue had been raised in discussions with U.S. President George W. Bush on the APEC summit's sidelines.
"We agreed we will be working with the U.S. Congress, and that the State Duma [Russia's lower house of parliament] should engage in the process more proactively."