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Russia May Join WTO in 2011, European Trade Chief De Gucht Says

Russia may win World Trade Organization membership next year, the European Union’s trade chief said in remarks that echo U.S. comments last month.

European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said the EU is nearing an agreement with Russia, the largest economy outside the 153-member WTO, on its entry application. Russian wood- export duties opposed by European paper companies such as Stora Enso Oyj are the main remaining “sticking point,” he said.

“We have progressed rather well,” De Gucht told reporters today in Brussels. “I would say they are now in for early entry. The end of next year, I would consider it to be early.”

Russia, which applied to join the Geneva-based WTO 17 years ago, is seeking to wrap up negotiations with the U.S. and the EU. Lawrence Summers, departing director of the U.S. National Economic Council, said on Oct. 20 that “we are certainly hopeful that well before 12 months from now the process will have been completed.”

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is seeking to diversify the economy of the world’s biggest energy exporter to lessen its dependence on oil, natural gas and metals. His senior economic adviser, Arkady Dvorkovich, said on Oct. 29 that Russia’s chances of joining the WTO in 2011 are greater than 50 percent.

De Gucht declined to comment on the extent to which Russian fees on European airlines that fly over Siberia remain an obstacle to an EU green light for the country’s WTO bid, saying that is a matter for Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas. The EU says Russia has failed to follow through on a 2006 accord to end the fees, which European airlines pay to Russian carrier OAO Aeroflot for the right to fly between Europe and Asia.

The European Commission, the 27-nation EU’s regulatory arm, in late October threatened lawsuits against Germany, France, Austria and Finland for including provisions on Siberian overflight charges in aviation accords with Russia. The country’s policy is a relic of the Cold War, when Russian airspace was out of bounds and Russia excluded Siberia in return for a fee.

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