June 19, 2024

Putin Questions W.T.O. Rules

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia interrupted a speech by a deputy minister on Friday to sharply rebuke the man for suggesting that Moscow 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 accession talks that seemed close to success.

Both U.S. and European Union officials say Russia has met nearly all requirements for entry after cracking down on optical disc piracy, agreeing to stricter rules against counterfeiting pharmaceuticals 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 by 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 Russian factories were struggling to compete with Chinese imports, and that officials could not raise tariffs because of the free trade commitments that Russia undertook while trying to join the W.T.O. Officials’ “hands are tied,” the deputy minister said.

Mr. Putin then burst out, using sharp language, saying 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, though his government is negotiating for membership.

In 2009, when Russia seemed close to joining, Mr. Putin abruptly broke off talks and said Moscow would only join as part of a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Russia is now back to negotiating alone.

It has been a long 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 any other member in the 153-country group, which sets rules for international trade. Investors say Russia’s stock market could get a bounce from membership as the economy will be seen as on track toward closer integration with the rest of the world.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/09/business/global/09wto.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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