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 Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs