Russia On Track to Join WTO By Year’s End

Posted November 10th, 2011 at 1:05 am (UTC-5)
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Russia and Georgia have signed an agreement, removing what is believed to be the final obstacle to Russia joining the World Trade Organization.

Final negotiations for Russia's admittance are set to begin Thursday, with ministers from all 153 WTO members expected to give final approval in December.

The Swiss-brokered deal with Georgia was reached Wednesday and includes independent monitoring of all trade between Russia and Georgia, including Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The issue had stalled an agreement because of Tbilisi's insistence that Russia provide access to trade information in the two breakaway regions.

Russia supports the two separatist regions, and Russia and Georgia fought a brief war over the dispute in 2008.

The White House said U.S. Vice President Joe Biden congratulated Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on the agreement, saying it is a historic step that could help reduce tensions in the region.

Georgia had been the only obstacle to Russia's membership in the 153-nation trade bloc. Under WTO rules, any one of the members can block a new country by vetoing it. Georgia has been under pressure from the United States and the European Union to allow Russia to join.

Russia has negotiated for 18 years to join the WTO, and is currently the largest economy still outside the group.