Russia, Australia Seal WTO Deal

Australia and Russia have signed an accord which is set to fuel the latter's efforts to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), although Moscow must still strike a deal with the U.S., diplomats said on June 6.

Under the rules of the 149-nation WTO, prospective members hold negotiations with current members nations as a group. But they must also strike parallel bilateral agreements with concerned trading partners before they get a green light to join the body that sets the rules of global commerce. Moscow has already signed 57 bilateral deals, including the accord with Australia.

A deal with the U.S. is seen as the final hurdle. Both U.S. and Russian officials have signaled that an agreement between the two countries on Moscow's WTO bid may be concluded in the coming weeks ahead of the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Saint Petersburg in mid-July.

Russia first applied to join the WTO in the 1990s but little real negotiating took place until President Vladimir Putin identified membership as a top priority for his administration. The U.S. however, claiming Russia has not done enough to protect intellectual property rights and to liberalize its financial services sector, as well as wider concerns about the state of democracy in Russia, has so far refused to back Russia's WTO bid.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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