Sun, Jul 16, 2006 - Page 11 News List

Bush says Russia, US will persist in talks on WTO deal

AFP , SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

Russia and the US have so far failed to seal a deal enabling Moscow to join the WTO but are continuing the negotiate an accord, US President George W. Bush said yesterday.

"We want Russian accession to the WTO and we will continue negotiating," Bush said at a joint public appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"It's almost reached," the US president said of the elusive agreement.

Bush was speaking in Saint Petersburg ahead of the opening later yesterday of a full G8 summit, where Russian authorities had hoped an accord on WTO accession might be announced.

Bush reiterated that the US wanted to see Russia in the Geneva-based arbiter of world trade rules.

But he stressed that any deal reached with Moscow "must be acceptable to the US Congress."

Earlier Russian chief negotiator Maxim Medvedkok said that "the protocol will be signed neither today nor within the coming weeks," Interfax news agency reported.

But US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said the parties had made "a lot of progress," adding that agreement was "a question of weeks."

Russia has already signed bilateral agreements with its other key trading partners and now needs a green light from the US to join the 149-member Geneva-based WTO, which sets global rules.

Russia is today the only major power operating outside the WTO.

Agreement on its membership at the G8 summit would constitute a major summit success for Putin and serve to confirm Russia's rising stature as a global commercial and economic powerhouse.

Russian press reports Saturday said the main stumbling block was Washington's insistence on an easing in Russian health regulations, which some of its trading partners suspect are applied in order to justify politically motivated embargos.

But the US has also been pressing for Russian guarantees on the opening of the country's financial sector to foreign participants and for a reduction in agricultural subsidies.

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