Russia and the United States signed a bilateral deal Sunday for Moscow's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), removing the last major obstacle in Russia's 13-year-old bid to join the global trade body.
The agreement was signed by Russia's Economy Minister German Gref and US Trade Representative Susan Schwab on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum in Hanoi.
The signing was timed to take place before a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President George W. Bush, who both took part in the APEC forum Sunday.
"Undoubtedly, this agreement is a very substantial milestone in the full integration of Russia into the global economy," Gref told reporters after the signing ceremony.
Russia, the last major economy outside the 149-member trade body, would benefit from a "significant increase" in global trade after joining the world trade body, Schwab said.
US business groups have welcomed the pact, which officials said removes long-standing Russian obstacles to US beef, pork and poultry exports and required Moscow to cut tariffs on a long list of agricultural and manufactured goods.
Russia has also agreed to open up its services sector and to combat piracy and counterfeiting of foreign goods.
Gref told reporters on Saturday personal contacts between Putin and Bush played a key role in speeding up the deal, the last and most difficult in a string of 56 similar agreements signed by Russia in the past six years. "The next stage, multilateral talks, normally takes 6-8 months," Gref said. "We would want to finalize the whole process by mid-2007," he said.
The US-Russia deal could yet face a rough ride from the Democrat-led US Congress, although lawmakers do not have the power to block Russia's accession to the WTO.
Some Russian analysts have speculated that Bush, who needs a strong political boost after the Republican defeat in the mid-term polls, pushed for a WTO deal with Russia in the hope of getting Putin's support on issues like Iran or Iraq.
But Gref denied any link. "The basic issues were agreed before the US elections," he said.
US to lift warplane sanctions
Russia said Sunday Bush had decided to lift sanctions imposed for selling restricted items to Iran on Russian warplane manufacturer Sukhoi.
"This question was discussed. Bush said that, after an additional examination of the problem, a decision was made to lift sanctions from Sukhoi," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after talks between Bush and Putin.
In August, the United States announced sanctions against seven firms from Russia, India, North Korea and Cuba for selling restricted items to Iran, which Washington fears is trying to make nuclear weapons.
(China Daily November 20, 2006)