EU chief confident Russia WTO issues to be solved

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MAFRA, Portugal, Oct 26 (Reuters) The head of the European Commission said today he was confident two issues preventing the EU from signing off on Russia's accession to the World Trade Organisation could be solved.

''I am confident that those issues are solvable and both sides need to make rapid efforts to solve them,'' European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit.

Russia has been seeking to join the WTO since the mid-1990s and in 2004 the EU agreed to back its accession.

EU officials say Russia needs to take action on two issues -- cutting export duties on timber and reforming railway fees that Brussels says unfairly favour Russian ports.

Finnish national broadcaster Yle said today that Russia was willing to drop wood export duties once it joined the WTO.

A spokesman for EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said Russia put ''a number of ideas on the table'' but there was not yet a definitive solution in sight.

Brussels also wants to see Russia improve intellectual property rights, lower technical barriers to trade and implement an agreement to axe fees for airlines flying over Siberia.

The United States has said it too is close to signing off on Russia's WTO bid but a few issues still stand in the way.

At the summit today, the EU and Russia signed an agreement for new quotas for Russian exports of flat and long steel products to the EU in 2007 and 2008.

The agreement raised the quota on these steel products to 2.904 million tonnes in 2007 and 3.031 million tonnes in 2008, up from 2.4 million tonnes in 2006 and in 2007 under a previous agreement, the Commission said in a statement.

''This agreement shows that the European Union and Russia are able to do business in a constructive manner, despite public perception that this is not the case,'' Mandelson said. ''When our two sides are pragmatic, we make good progress.'' The quotas were raised partly to take account of Romania and Bulgaria joining the EU this year. The system will be repealed once Russia joins the WTO.

Russia is the number two exporter of steel to the EU after China, the statement said.

REUTERS GT RK2322

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