Russia secures WTO deal, backs Kyoto

Russia has secured a deal with the European Union to enter the World Trade Organisation - and immediately rewarded the bloc by promising to back a world environmental pact.

    Putin has balked at signing the Kyoto treaty

    Both sides acknowledged making concessions to clinch a deal

    to boost President Vladimir Putin's goal of agreeing entry terms

    by the end of 2004.

    That would crown six years of talks to make

    Russia the WTO's 148th member and the last big economy to join.

    EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy and Russian Trade Minister

    German Gref signed the accord in the Kremlin on Friday,

     and Putin

    immediately said Russia would back the Kyoto protocol on global

    warming.

    Linking the two issues, Putin said: "It is true that the

    European Union has met us half-way on certain issues during the

    WTO negotiations.

    "This cannot but have a positive effect on our position on

    the Kyoto protocol. We will speed up Russia's moves towards

    ratifying the protocol... We clearly set out our position on

    Kyoto long ago. We are for the Kyoto process and we support it."

    Environment polluters

    "This cannot but have a positive effect on our position on

    the Kyoto protocol. We will speed up Russia's moves towards

    ratifying the protocol... We clearly set out our position on

    Kyoto long ago. We are for the Kyoto process and we support it"


    Vladimir Putin,
    Russian president

    But Russia, he said, remained concerned over problems posed

    by a combination of EU enlargement, WTO membership and joining

    the Kyoto protocol.

    And Putin carefully avoided any commitments

    as to when the ratification could happen.

    "I cannot say how things will be 100% because

    ratification is not an issue for the president but for

    parliament, but we will speed up this process," said Putin, who

    toughly controls the Russian legislature.

    Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, the current EU chairman,

    said he was encouraged by Putin's comments.

    "I know that we can keep on working on the issue so that we

    will come to a successful conclusion," he told reporters.

    The fate of the Kyoto protocol has depended on Russian

    approval since Washington pulled out in 2001, since it cannot

    come into force without the backing of developed nations

    responsible for 55% of greenhouse gas emissions.

    Contentious issues

    Prospects for Russia supporting the protocol had faded after

    top officials and scientists advised against it.

    Russia has been convulsed by months of debate on Kyoto, with

    persistent coaxing from the EU whose members account for more

    than half of Moscow's foreign trade.

    Contentious issues - human rights, media freedoms and the

    bid to crush Chechen separatism - faded into the background.

    The summit was the first since the EU embraced 10 new

    members, including eight which were in Moscow's sphere of

    influence until the fall of communism

    .

    European Commission President Romano Prodi said the WTO

    agreement was clinched as both sides "moved to take into account

    important political and economic sensitivities".

    Analysts portrayed the deal with the EU as a crucial

    milestone, since Moscow has yet to strike similar deals with

    other WTO members such as the United States.

    Russian gas sector

    EU Trade Minister Pascal Lamy
    signed the deal in the Kremlin

    With hours to go before the summit, differences over 160

    issues had been boiled down to three or four, with much haggling

    over the liberalisation of Russia's huge natural gas sector.

    An EU statement after the signature of the deal said Russia

    had agreed to gradually raise domestic gas prices for industrial

    users to pave the way for WTO membership - rising by a third or

    even a half by 2006 and doubling by 2010.

    The trading bloc has long demanded Russia boost domestic

    prices - one fifth of export prices - on the grounds it gives

    Russian companies an unfair advantage.

    Even though a trade deal has now been struck, investors

    hungry for a slice of Russia's economy will have to wait a

    little longer before they can rely on WTO rules to cover them.

    And Russia has yet to conclude deals with other WTO members,

    including the United States.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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