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 On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

Nigerians Await New President With High Hopes

When pomp and circumstance of inauguration end in Abuja, Buhari will sit down to the hard task of governing Nigeria More

India's Restrictions on Several NGOs Raise Concerns

Political analysts link recent clampdown on advocacy groups to report last year that said foreign-funded NGO’s negatively impact economic development 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.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs