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    Georgia will not give way on Russia's WTO bid

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    TBILISI, April 3 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia will not alter its position on Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization, the Caucasus state's economics minister said Tuesday.

    Georgia has refused to sign a bilateral WTO agreement with Russia, demanding it should stop trading with its breakaway regions and insisting all goods should pass through checkpoints run by the central government. Moscow has argued it is more a political than an economic issue.

    "No country can influence Georgia's position on Russia's accession to the WTO," Giorgy Arveladze said. "Of course, Russia should become a WTO member and is heading towards the objective, but Russia will need Georgia's consent for its bid."

    Arveladze admitted Russia could join the global trade body bypassing Georgia, but said it would be a complicated procedure.

    Ex-Soviet Georgia withdrew from the bilateral WTO agreement with Russia after Moscow banned Georgia's key food exports in March 2006, citing health concerns. But Tbilisi insisted the move was political.

    Tbilisi has since removed the objections, but continued to demand the closure of what it calls illegal customs checkpoints on Russia's border with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgia in the 1990s.

    Russia is still to hold bilateral accession talks with four countries and conduct multilateral talks. Economics officials said earlier the country could join the 150-nation trade organization in 2007.

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