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U.S.: Russia Could Join WTO By 2004, But Only On Equal Terms

By Agence France-Presse The United States is eager to see Russia join the World Trade Organization (WTO) and hopes it can do so as early as next year, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans said Sept. 24. But Evans stressed that Russia would not be allowed into the world trade oversight body under any special terms, despite Moscow's insistence for leniency. "I think we have made great progress in moving the accession along for Russia in the WTO," Evans said. Russian officials have said they do not expect to join the WTO until 2005 or 2007 at the earliest as they hammer out tough trade disagreements with the United States, the European Union and China, among others. But Evans said that Moscow was being too pessimistic and that Russia's WTO membership should be agreed soon. "I know it's unlikely that it is going to happen in 2003 . . . but I would not rule out 2004 yet," Evans said after a meeting with Russian Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref. "We are trying to be very supportive in trying to move the process along, so that Russia understands the kinds and regulations and laws that have to be implemented in order for accession into the WTO," he said. Concerning Russia's negotiations with the United States, Evans said Washington remained concerned about the state of property rights amid calls by Russian lawmakers for a review of controversial state property privatization deals of the past decade. He also questioned Russia's willingness to open up its markets to competitors, with restrictions on the U.S. insurance industry featuring highly in previous talks. Russia, one of the world's top steel producers, also remains in disagreement with the United States, along with China, over quotas on steel imports. Meanwhile European states are pressuring Russia to introduce free-market rates for its internal energy supplies, and to end subsidies for its agriculture sector. During previous negotiations, Moscow has argued the West should be more lenient with Russia than other potential WTO members because it is a massive country just emerging from difficult post-Soviet reforms. But Evans stressed that Russia would receive no special treatment. "It's not a matter of negotiating lower standards or higher standards -- everybody becomes a member of the WTO based on the same standards, and those are what we have to make sure have been implemented," Evans said. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2003

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