A World Trade Organization (WTO) panel has approved a package of proposed reforms for Russia, clearing the way for the country to join the group after 18 years of negotiations.
The WTO said Thursday that Russia's bid will now go before a meeting of all 153 members in December, where it is expected to get final approval.
The reforms include a cap on tariffs and a provision allowing foreign banks to establish
subsidiaries in Russia.
U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated Russia for making progress on the issue. In a note to journalists, Mr. Obama said Russia's WTO membership will generate more exports for American manufacturers, farmers, and service providers, sparking job growth in the United States.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said Russia's membership will bring it more firmly into the global economy and make the country a more attractive place to do business.
The approval comes a day after Russia signed a key agreement with Georgia, which includes independent monitoring of all trade between the two countries, 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 WTO. 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.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.