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Georgia Ready for WTO Talks with Russia
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Georgia is prepared for talks with Russia on its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said on Tuesday.

Georgia signed a deal with Russia on its entry into the WTO in May 2004 but announced in July this year that it would renegotiate the terms with Russia.

"We are ready both for bilateral and multilateral talks with Moscow. Georgia is interested in Russia's membership in the WTO," Bezhuashvili was quoted by the Interfax and Itar-Tass news agencies as saying in Tbilisi.

Bezhuashvili said the issues that needed to be addressed included a Russian ban on Georgian wines, mineral water and foodstuff and the legalization of border customs checkpoints in Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russia is the largest economy still outside the Geneva-based world trade body. It signed a bilateral WTO agreement with the United States last month, clearing the last major hurdle to its accession. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref has said Russia may join the WTO next year.

Also on Tuesday, Bezhuashvili said Georgia's policy of building a democratic state and joining NATO is not targeted at Russia.

He said the country's relations with NATO and the European Union deepened in 2006 with several accords signed, the Interfax news agency reported.

"Strategic cooperation with the United States is ongoing. Special attention was given to cooperation with neighboring countries in the area of democratic development and energy security," he said.

Bezhuashvili said improving relations with Russia is one of Georgian's main objectives in foreign policy.

"Many serious problems have piled up in these relations. At present, it is necessary at least to make these relations pragmatic and mutually advantageous, and in the future to work on turning them into truly good-neighborly and partner relations," he was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying.

Ties between Moscow and Tbilisi have been strained by tensions over Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and the country's bid to join NATO since President Mikhail Saakashvili came to power in 2003.

Relations nose-dived in late September after the Caucasus nation briefly detained four Russian officers on spying charges. Moscow, infuriated by the arrests, has imposed an economic blockade on Tbilisi by cutting transport and postal links.

Speaking on Georgia's possible pullout from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Bezhuashvili said Georgia will proceed from its national interests when deciding whether to remain in the group and a decision is expected by summer next year, Interfax reported.

The CIS "is not an effective organization but there exist numerous agreements that regulate trade and other relations between its member countries. Therefore, when we decide we should be sure that the decision will not have a negative impact on our interests," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency December 27, 2006)

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