Russia’s Accession to the WTO – What Does It Mean?

Better Late Than Never

On the 11th November 2011 the Russian and WTO working parties agreed terms to pave the way for Russia’s acceptance to the World Trade Organisation. Russian lawmakers approved membership on the 22nd August 2012.

The path to membership has, to put it lightly, been arduous. Original negotiations started in 1993 and were ongoing ever since.

Following his successful presidential election in 2000, Vladimir Putin got behind the accession plans and was a key player in the eventual outcome. He displayed his frustrations more than once at the negotiations and how “the rules of the game” were changed to suit different WTO partners.

Although the WTO is ostensibly an apolitical global trade organisation, the delays and barriers that Russia has dealt with in recent years have been politically charged.

Prior to the agreement, Vladimir Putin said in a recent Chinese TV interview;

“We want to join the World Trade Organisation. This is our goal and our objective. In our opinion this would have a generally positive impact on the Russian economy, mostly because it will increase the level of trust in the economy, and on the administrative and legal procedures within the economy. By the way, we have fully adjusted our domestic legislation to WTO requirements. We have done this. We have also settled the major problems with all of the key partners. I think that it has become more of a political issue.”

He was less diplomatic when interviewed on Russian TV when he lambasted the EU and USA for procrastination and for causing deliberate delays to Russian accession. This back drop is against open hostility to Russia by some US lawmakers who wrote to the US WTO Trade Representative on the 10th November about their ‘significant concerns’ and demanding that Russia display “transparent, substantive and prompt action” in its’ adherence to WTO obligations.

“Substantive” could be used as a Russian accolade but neither ‘transparency’ nor ‘prompt’  russia ukraine news are virtues I see much of in the Federation.

As an organisation the WTO supervises and liberalises international trade, regulating trade between member countries and providing the negotiating and trade agreements platform.

Importantly for Russian success and her ability to attract fresh inward investment, the WTO enforces dispute resolution aimed at member’s adherence to WTO agreements.

The WTO has 153 members and represents more than 97% of the world’s population so Russia’s absence since the fall of the USSR has been anachronistic. With a $1.5 trillion GDP and as the world’s largest oil and gas producer Russia should have been in the WTO years earlier.

Membership of the WTO will not change the business environment or the high risk assessment given to Russia by foreign investors. What it should do is add impetus to the significant reform and efficiency drives and reflect the seriousness the Russian government places on combating inefficiency, corruption and cronyism.

Look at the closure of hundreds of customs posts, the dismissal of many customs officers and the opening of new import facilities to promote faster, fairer growth plus the billions of dollars attracted from the auto and pharmaceutical sectors in the last 12 months.

There is no doubt that membership is good for Russia. It brings much-needed capital to the Russian markets. Strained relations with the West followed the 2008 five-day Georgian conflict and, in the seven months following hostilities, investors pulled $300 billion out of Russia. In 2011 further outflow reached $70 billion against a $36 billion forecast by the Russian central bank.

According to the World Bank, Russian WTO membership will bring both sustainable and incremental annual economic growth of 2% and this success is measured against the backdrop of shrinkage and uncertainty in the global markets. Russia joining the WTO is the ‘good news’ the world markets are looking for following the WTO failure at Doha, the incessant Euro-zone doom and unremitting, depressing news from the US markets.

The consensus to join the WTO (the final barrier fell when Russia and Georgia signed an agreement approving Russia’s WTO entry on November 9 in Geneva, after both agreed on international monitoring on the disputed crossings with South Ossetia and Abkhazia) came only weeks after Vladimir Putin confirmed his return to the Russian Presidency on September 24th.

Following this consensus the rouble was the strongest performing of the top 25 currencies, having gained over 5% against the US dollar. The Russian stock market gained over 15% in what has been the world’s biggest jump and Russian oil jumped 7% in the same period.


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