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Georgia, Russia and WTO

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, June 29
Georgia does not have many ways it can put pressure on Russia at international level, however one is its membership of the World Trade Organisation. Though Georgia is member of that body Russia is not. No one can join WTO without the consent and support of all members, so Russia needs Georgia’s endorsement before it can enter WTO. Georgia will obviously not allow Russia to join the organisation until it fulfills certain conditions demanded by Tbilisi.

However Moscow is still desperately knocking on the doors of WTO. Now the issue has taken on an extra dimension, as during President Medvedev’s visit to the USA President Obama promised to accelerate its application. Obama stated during a speech at the Chamber of Trade that Russia should become a WTO member as this would benefit Russia, the USA and everyone else. Obama promised Medvedev that he would solicit Russia’s entry to the WTO as long as Moscow brings all its legislation into compliance with WTO demands. How he will do this is an open question, but the intrigue is here.

Of the 150 members of WTO only Georgia is against the Russia's entry, and it has set preconditions for accepting it from the day it applied. These are that the customs checkpoint at Psou on the Abkhazian segment of the Georgian-Russian border and the Roki Tunnel, on the Tskhinvali region segment of the Georgian-Russian border, should be jointly controlled and the Russian embargo on Georgian agricultural products be lifted. Russia stubbornly refused to agree to these things even when Georgia was a CIS member. Now Russia recognises the “independent states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia” and has occupied them since August 2008, further complicating matters.

Russia wants to enter WTO through the Russia-Kazakhstan-Belarus customs union. Its senior state officials say that Georgia is not a member of the WTO working group which will take the final decision on Russia’s entry. Moscow is hopeful that Georgia will be unable to exercise its veto. The Kremlin leaders assure us that Russia will become a WTO member this September, presumably hoping that the USA will put pressure on Georgia and force it to accept Russia’s membership without waiting for the fulfillment of its preconditions. This Russian hope is reinforced by the fact that Georgia's relationship with the US is of great importance.

On June 25 Deputy Minister for Economic Development Zurab Alavidze stated that Georgia is still against Russia joining WTO membership and repeated Tbilisi’s demands. He also confirmed that Georgia is not going to alter its position regardless of Obama’s promise to Medvedev. Some analysts doubt that Georgia will actually resist US pressure because Washington might tell Tbilisi that when Moscow becomes a WTO member it will have to abide by the rules of the game and therefore be unable to block the reentry of Georgian products to Russia. They also say that the demand for joint control of the customs checkpoints is unrealistic in the "new reality" Russia has created in the occupied territories. However all this is just speculation, and the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.