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    Gref: Russia "fulfilling all the commitments"


    5 March, Russian Economy and Trade Minister German Gref told reporters in Singapore "As of today we are fulfilling all the commitments that we have taken on. I'm not sure whether we will be able to complete the accession process this year. There is a chance to make it on time but I can't radiate certainty.''

    Gref's comment followed comments by EU Ambassador to Russia Marc Franco during an interview published in the Russian daily Kommersant: "We have heard a lot from our Russian partners that joining the WTO is a priority,'' said Franco. "But the way the negotiations are going and poor fulfilment of bilateral commitments raises doubts over whether Russia will become a member by the end of 2007.''

    Franco's remarks echo those of US Trade Representative Susan Schwab the previous week, who said Russia had a "great deal to do to get the multilateral part of its WTO accession agreement concluded.'' EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson will reportedly visit Moscow late March for talks with Russian trade officials.

    A series of multilateral and bilateral talks on Russia's WTO accession wound up 2 March, with Maksim Medvedkov, head of trade negotiations in Russia's Ministry of the Economy and Trade, expressing optimism on the outcome: "The good news is that all these meetings have clarified the tasks we must solve in the coming month or month and a half in order to advance to the final stage of Russia's accession to the WTO," said Medvedkov.

    Accession discussions covered a number of issues including agricultural subsidies, regulations governing Russia's sugar industry, improved enforcement of copyright laws, and concerns on Russia's plans to revise some laws adopted two or three years ago to bring legislation in line with WTO laws.

    Russia still has to sign bilateral protocols with Cambodia and Guatemala. Talks with Cambodia could take place in April while the signature with Guatemala is reportedly close to being signed. Meanwhile, Georgia's renewal of its bilateral accession protocol with Russia, withdrawn last year, turns on its request for closure of "illegal" customs checkpoints on the Abkhazia and South Ossetia segments of the Russia-Georgia border. .