Latvia was admitted yesterday into the World Trade Organization (WTO), the first post-Soviet country in Europe to become a full member. Latvia began accession negotiations with the WTO in 1993, simultaneously with the other two Baltic states, who seem close to admission, and with Russia, who is not close. Latvia attributes its success to the economic performance and policies of Prime Minister Guntars Krasts’ government. The membership status substantially broadens the access of Latvian exporters to WTO’s member countries. It also guarantees nondiscriminatory treatment of Latvian products in those countries. Finally, it represents an important incentive to foreign investment in Latvia (BNS, October 14).
WTO membership will enable Latvia to accelerate the reorientation of its exports away from the Russian market, thereby reducing vulnerability to Russian sanctions. The new opportunities also will reduce the political influence of local interest groups dependent on the Russian trade. Some of those groups attempted to topple the Latvian government earlier this year, after Moscow had introduced unofficial trade sanctions–dubbed “measures of influence”–hoping to derail Latvia’s pro-Western political course. Moscow subsequently offered to lift the sanctions and to grant Latvia certain trade privileges in return for concluding a separate political and security pact with Russia.
Latvia hopes to be equalized with frontrunner Estonia in terms of accession negotiations with the European Union at the EU’s December summit. That would mean another big step away from vulnerability to Russian economic and political leverage.
KYIV SETS SPECIFIC GOALS FOR RELATIONS WITH THE EUROPEAN UNION.