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Talks on Russian WTO entry make slow progress

Written by: Staff
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GENEVA, Mar 24 (Reuters) Talks on Thursday between Russia and World Trade Organisation (WTO) member states made little progress on removing obstacles to Russia's accession, a senior diplomat said.

''Unfortunately, we have not been making the progress that all of us would like,'' said former Icelandic ambassador to the WTO Stefan Johannesson, who chairs the talks.

Russia, the largest economy still outside the Geneva-based trade body, has been negotiating entry for 13 years.

Although it has reached bilateral deals with most of the 149 WTO member states that sought them, Moscow still needs the accord of the overall membership that Russian commercial rules and regulations are in line with WTO practices.

''There is significant work to be done,'' Johannesson said.

''There are many policy issues out there that need to be settled,'' he added, although he declined to go into detail on where the problems lay.

He noted, however, that negotiations had touched on only 19 of the 47 policy questions needing attention, ranging from agriculture to protection for intellectual property.

Moscow's chief negotiator Maxim Medvedkov acknowledged that progress had been slow, but said he remained optimistic that Russia would be in a position to join by the end of the year.

''We are not satisfied with what is happening multilaterally,'' he said, in reference to the talks with the full WTO membership.

''The remaining issues are the most difficult ones,'' he added.

Diplomats said both the European Union and the United States had raised concerns about the effectiveness of Russian anti-piracy laws at Thursday's talks, along with health regulations covering agricultural imports.

Besides striking a deal with the full membership, Moscow needs to conclude bilateral pacts with three states -- the United States, Australia and Colombia.

A further round of talks between U.S. and Russian negotiators will be held on Monday and Tuesday in Geneva, with U.S. officials expected to continue to press for more access to Russian financial markets.

Medvedkov said Russia had already offered substantial market access for U.S. banks and insurance companies, and he insisted that Moscow would not bow to a U.S. demand to be allowed to open branches across the country.

Despite the differences, he said he hoped that a deal could be struck.

''We may come to a fair conclusion...sooner rather than later,'' he said, without committing himself to a date.

REUTERS SD BS1537

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