News / Europe

Russia Faces Potential Obstacles to WTO Bid

Russia has been trying to join the World Trade Organization - or WTO - since 1993. But it's WTO bid faces two possible obstacles: the creation of a new customs union and Georgia's opposition.

Earlier this month, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan signed an agreement forming a customs union between the three countries. The ultimate goal is to create, sometime in the future, a single common market of about 170 million people.

Anders Aslund, with the Peterson Institute for International Economics, says it is unclear exactly what the three countries agreed to do. And he points out there have been numerous attempts to create such a trade zone before.

"First if you remember the union between Russia and Belarus in January 1994," he said.  "Then a customs union with Kazakhstan and Russia in 1995, with then Belarus and then added Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. And then it was renamed EURASEC [Eurasian Economic Community] in 2000 and it sort of all fell apart," said Aslund.

Aslund says that was followed in September 2003 by the Common Economic Space with Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. But he says that fell apart because of the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine.

"And this [new] customs union is essentially based on the Common Economic Space that should have included Ukraine also but has not, rather than the customs union of 1995," said Aslund.  "Here we have lots of documents that have been signed over the years and they haven't meant really anything. So this is just a big conundrum [riddle] of bureaucracy and nobody seems to obey any laws, so why believe in it?" He asked.

Robert Legvold with Columbia University agrees:

"I don't think anybody who is looking at this believes that it is going to reach any kind of maturity or fruition anytime soon," he said.  "The Russians and Belarussians are feuding continually. There would be fundamental problems anyway, even if there were goodwill among all the parties to it - and that goodwill is simply not there right now," said Legvold.

Some analysts say Russia's participation in a customs union might hurt its chances of becoming a member of the World Trade Organization - the agency overseeing the rules of international trade.

Other experts - such as Legvold and Aslund - say it won't. Once again, Anders Aslund.

"When I've talked to senior Russian officials recently, they say nobody in Moscow takes the customs union seriously. Russian officials have been here extensively in Washington explaining that this will not be an impediment to their WTO accession," Aslund said.

Analysts say a much bigger obstacle than the customs union is the Georgian government's opposition to Russia's WTO membership. Under WTO rules, any member can block a new country from joining simply by vetoing it, because the WTO operates by consensus. Tbilisi has over the years threatened to use its vote against Moscow.

Georgia has been angered by Russia's economic embargo on that country. And Tbilisi strongly opposes Moscow's support for the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Lawyer (with DLA Piper) and trade expert David Christy, who has helped governments in their WTO bids, looks at another contentious issue between Moscow and Tbilisi.

"During Russia's accession, there was a dispute with basically treatment of border posts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which caused Georgia to stop the formal working party process for Russia. The way that the members involved in the Russian accession dealt with that was to have in essence 'gray meetings' - informal meetings - to try to push the process along," said Christy.

But that process has gained little ground.

Christy says the Georgians are still opposed to Russia joining the WTO.

"I don't think that they are - put it this way - as formally opposed as they were, but I also don't think that they are on board," he said.  "They had concluded a bilateral [agreement] with Russia. In Russia's case, there are roughly 60 separate bilateral agreements with individual members of the WTO. The bilateral with Georgia had been concluded earlier but was undone by both parties in 2006 and has yet to be put back together. Putting these back together is not like putting Humpty Dumpty back together - but it will take a bit of work, that's for sure," Christy explained.

Christy says if Georgia is the only country opposed to Russia's WTO membership, the political pressure brought to bear on Tbilisi would eventually become intense and could overwhelm that country.

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More