EU commissioner Hans van den Broek was quoted as telling a Moscow press conference last week that the European Union "stands for Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization." (Itar-Tass, August 29) The statement could be interpreted as a significant change in the EU’s position on Russia’s application for WTO membership and one which could also have important implications for the WTO’s future.
The WTO was created in 1994 to broaden the scope of free international trading beyond the sphere of manufactures, which had been the purview of the WTO’s predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Membership applications from Russia and China have both posed challenges for the WTO, since these countries have tried to leverage their geopolitical importance into WTO membership on terms more protectionist than are those that have been extended to smaller countries. Until now, the EU and the U.S. have maintained that, without adopting further measures to liberalize domestic and external economic activity, Russia’s (and China’s) economy are too protectionist to be compatible with the rules of free trade that the WTO embodies. Van den Broek’s statement suggests that the EU’s position on this question may be softening, and that the stubborn negotiating strategies used by Russia (and China) may be paying dividends after all.
Any such change in the EU’s position on WTO accession could have important ramifications for Ukraine, as well as for other CIS countries. Perhaps coincidentally, the Ukrainian government on August 28 gave its approval to a summit meeting that is to be held tomorrow in Kyiv between Ukrainian and EU officials. According to press reports, EU support for Ukraine’s WTO application is one of the topics to be discussed. (Russian and Ukrainian agencies, August 29)
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