Russia ready to drop wood duties in WTO-Finnish TV

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HELSINKI, Oct 26 (Reuters) Russia is willing to drop wood export duties if accepted as a member of the World Trade Organisation, Finnish national broadcaster Yle said on its Web site today.

Yle added, without naming sources, that Russia and the European Union were close to an agreement on the issue.

Yle later said in a news broadcast that Russian President Vladimir Putin had made the offer at the EU-Russia summit in Portugal.

Russia has announced plans to more than double export duties on raw logs, which forestry products companies have said would practically end imports of timber from Russia.

About 20 per cent of raw wood used by Finnish paper mills comes from Russia.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson responded positively to the Russian offer, Yle reported, but he said the EU cannot wait until the membership comes into effect.

Yle added negotiations about guaranteeing trade until the duties are lifted are continuing.

The EU would not immediately confirm the report. ''We continue to negotiate with the Russians. They have put a number of ideas on the table,'' Peter Power, a spokesman for Mandelson, said.

''These form the basis for serious negotiation. However we do not yet have a definitive solution in sight.'' Yesterday, the world's top paper and board maker, Stora Enso, said it would close paper and pulp machines in Finland and Sweden as rising wood costs have dented already low profits.

Stora Enso Chief Executive Jouko Karvinen also said if the issue is not resolved and wood costs do not go down, the firm would have to cut capacity further within months.


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