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Russia agriculture minister says WTO harmful-Ifax

Written by: Staff
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MOSCOW, Apr 5 (Reuters) Trade rules set by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are harmful to Russia's economy, Interfax news agency quoted the Russian Agriculture Minister as saying on Wednesday.

Russia is locked in tough talks with the United States on joining the trade group. Arguments over access to Russian markets are a stumbling block.

''The WTO is a harmful organisation for developing countries, countries with an economy in transition, of which Russia is one,'' Interfax quoted Alexei Gordeyev as saying.

''For us agriculture is one of the main problem areas. Our negotiating position is that ... we have the right to support agriculture. And we need (import) tariffs twice as high as the ones we have now.

''But we are being pressured into giving ground. And it is the United States that is doing that. I say that openly,'' said Gordeyev.

Gordeyev -- like many in Russia's agriculture sector -- has long expressed scepticism about the benefits of Russia joining the trade group.

The Kremlin says it is committed to joining the WTO.

Officials say that while less competitive sectors, including agriculture, may suffer in the short term, membership will produce benefits for the economy.

But President Vladimir Putin said last week the United States was artificially holding up Russia's accession to the organisation by insisting on special conditions.

Russia has been negotiating its membership for 13 years. It is the biggest economy still outside the 149-member group.

It has reached bilateral deals with nearly all the member states that asked for them. It has yet to sign agreements with the United States, Australia and Colombia. Russia also needs to sign a multilateral deal with the WTO as a whole.

Access for foreign banks to the Russian market, intellectual property theft and tariffs on farm goods and aircraft are the main issues holding up the talks with Washington.

U.S. officials reject Russian allegations they are holding up the talks needlessly.

REUTERS MP KP1537

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