The acronym WTO stands for a number of things: World Tourism Organisation, World Toilet Organisation, oh and World Trade Organisation.
Given the palpable lack of urgency in Russia’s negotiations to join the WTO it might as well mean, “What’s this organisation?”
Talks have meandered for the better part of two decades. With the target in sight, Russia appears to be raising new obstacles to its own membership.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says Russia is free to slap retaliatory customs duties on imports of lowpriced machinery from China and told the government to hold fire on implementing any WTO rules for now.
That is not how accession is supposed to work. Russia is expected to bring its customs duties, non-tariff trade barriers, laws and valuations into line with WTO standards to show that it aspires to join.
Putin sees it differently: “As long as we fulfill WTO obligations (while) not being WTO members, our partners lose all the desire to accept us ... They will continue to use our possibilities and our markets.”
The prime minister has form. He surprised WTO negotiators in 2009, proposing Russia join the WTO in a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. The trade club accepts only individual country membership.
Russia can point to glacial progress on the other side: the US Congress keeps in place the Jackson- Vanik amendment, which denies Russia and a number of other ex-Communist countries normal trade relations.
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