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Georgia Wants Any Russia WTO Deal to Have International Monitors

Georgia may not support Russia's 18- year-old bid to join the World Trade Organization until customs transparency is improved, Deputy Foreign Minister Tornike Gordadze said.

"We're asking for something very simple. WTO membership demands customs transparency, and that's what we want to see," Gordadze said yesterday in an interview in Krynica, Poland. "But Russia has violated that principle from the very beginning." Georgia wants "at least international monitoring at the borders."

Russia and Georgia are due to meet in Switzerland this month to discuss the WTO. Russia has been trying to join the trade organization since 1993, surpassing the 15 years China had to wait before joining. While the U.S. and the European Union back Russian membership, its southern neighbor Georgia has blocked its accession, deepening a rift between the two nations.

"We want Russia to join the WTO. That would mean it had to keep to rules it's currently ignoring, such as the illegal goods embargo it imposed on Georgia," Gordadze said.

Russia halted the import of Georgian food products in 2006, expanding the ban later the same year in a move that cut road, rail, air and sea links with Georgia, halted postal services and blocked money transfers after Georgia arrested four Russian servicemen, accusing them of espionage. The four were released and expelled Oct. 2, 2006, after which Russia imposed sanctions.

Georgia's Borjomi mineral water, banned in Russia for the last five years, could immediately resume exports to Russia if Russian and Georgian authorities agree, a spokeswoman for the company, Nitsa Cholokashvili, said by phone from Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, today.

Biggest Economy

Russia is the biggest economy and the only Group of 20 nation outside the WTO, whose 153 members carry out 97 percent of world trade. Joining the WTO could boost Russia's $1.5 trillion economy by more than 3 percent in the medium term, according to the World Bank. All current WTO members must agree to the terms of admission for a new member.

"We're not politicizing the issue, and we're definitely not saying we'll only allow Russia's WTO membership in exchange for the end of the occupation of our territory, nothing like that," Gordadze said. "It's a completely different issue."

Russia routed Georgia's army in a five-day war in 2008 over South Ossetia, later recognizing the breakaway republic's independence from the Caucasus nation as well as that of Abkhazia, another separatist region. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev refuses to talk to his Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili, whom he blames for starting the conflict.

According to Gordadze, Georgia will continue talking to Russia and expects progress to be made.

"At least the talks are ongoing, and they're not completely unconstructive," he said. "It's worth continuing them."

Article ©2011 BLOOMBERG L.P. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED; article also appears at www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-09-08/georgia-wants-any-russia-wto-deal-to-have-international-monitors.html

Russia, Economy, Trade - Russia, Georgia - Russian News - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

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