September 27, 2023

In Outburst, Putin Says W.T.O. Rules Don’t Apply

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia interrupted a speech on the economy by a deputy minister on Friday to sharply rebuke him for suggesting that the government should abide by World Trade Organization rules on import tariffs. Russia is not yet a member of the global trade group but is applying to join.

It was unclear how, if at all, Mr. Putin’s interjection would affect the delicate talks that seemed close to success.

Trade officials in both the United States and the European Union say Russia has met nearly all requirements after cracking down on pirating, agreeing to stricter rules against counterfeited pharmaceutical drugs and negotiating with Finland on tariffs for round-log timber exports, a particular sticking point

So it came as a surprise when Mr. Putin interrupted the speech of a deputy minister of economy, Andrei Klepach, to say he would order Russian officials not to obey W.T.O. rules.

Mr. Klepach had been talking about industrial electrical equipment, like turbines, saying that Russian factories were struggling to compete with Chinese imports and that officials could not raise tariffs because of the free trade commitments undertaken by Russia while trying to join the W.T.O. Officials’ “hands are tied,” the deputy minister said.

Mr. Putin then burst out, using sharp language, that Russian officials should ignore the rules. “This is a direct order,” Mr. Putin said, according to a report on the meeting in St. Petersburg by the Interfax news agency.

“As soon as we start fulfilling W.T.O. obligations without being a member, they, our partners, will lose any wish to admit us,” Mr. Putin said. “Why the hell should they admit us if we already observe everything?”

Mr. Putin has been known as a W.T.O. skeptic for years, despite his government’s negotiation for membership.

In 2009, at another time when Russia seemed close to joining, Mr. Putin abruptly broke off talks and said Russia would join only as part of a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Now, though, Russia has dropped that idea and is negotiating alone.

It has been a long — and surely frustrating — process. Russia first applied to join the W.T.O.’s predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, in 1993, and its application has been pending longer than that of any other member in the 153-country group.

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