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Russia Clears Key WTO Hurdle

Pascal Lamy, left, Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) hands over a t-shirt with a logo saying ' Welcome to the WTO...finally!' to Maxim Medvedkov, the Chief WTO negotiator for the Russian Federation in Geneva, Switzerland, November 10,

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

World Trade Organization Aspires to Equitable Global Trading

The World Trade Organization (WTO) was established in Geneva, Switzerland on January 1, 1995, with the goal of helping producers of goods and services, exporters and importers conduct their business.

The WTO's main function is to ensure that global trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible to contribute to economic growth and development. It accomplishes these goals by providing a forum for negotiating agreements aimed at reducing obstacles to international trade by ensuring a level playing field for all. It also provides a legal framework for implementing and monitoring the agreements.

World Trade Organization agreements cover goods, services and intellectual property. The agreements are negotiated and signed by a large majority of the world's trading nations and are ratified by their governments.

Common principles that run through WTO agreements include avoiding discrimination among trading partners, encouraging openness by lowering trade barriers, discouraging unfair practices to make trade more competitive, predictable and transparent, and being sensitive to protecting the environment.

The WTO agreements also allow special provisions for developing countries to give them extra time to implement agreements and increase trading opportunities.

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.