Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, and EU leaders will discuss trade among other things at their summit [EPA]

The European Union has backed Russia's entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO), clearing the way for Russia to join the trade body in 2011, an EU spokesman said.

The EU and Russia signed an agreement on the sidelines of an EU-Russia summit on Tuesday, after the two powers resolved questions that had stopped EU approval of Russia's entry bid.

"They've signed a memorandum of understanding," John Clancy, a EU spokesman, said.

Russia's $1.2 trillion economy makes it the largest outside the WTO, and the World Bank has estimated entry could increase it by as much as 3.3 per cent in the medium term and 11 per cent in the long term.

The EU, which represents almost 500 million people, is Russia's biggest trading partner and ending its veto - largely thanks to Moscow's commitments to phasing out export tariffs on timber - removes a major obstacle to Russia's accession.

Moscow must still negotiate the terms of its entry with the WTO, with Russian concessions expected in car parts trade and terms for foreign investors.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, has said the country hopes to join the 153-member WTO in 2011.

"Currently, the EU position carries decisive significance for the successful conclusion of the (WTO) talks in the swiftest manner," the Kremlin said in a statement last week.

Energy efficiency and climate change would also be discussed, said the Kremlin. Russia's 17 years long bid to join the WTO is the longest-running membership negotiation.

One of the outstanding multilateral issues was the level of subsidy that Russia will pay its farmers, a sensitive topic as WTO members try to cap agricultural support among themselves.

Source: Agencies