Russia Needs Georgia’s Consent If It Really Seeks WTO Membership
22 September, 2011
Russia Needs Georgia’s Consent If It Really Seeks WTO Membership

The World Trade Organization (WTO) knows no precedent of a new member entry without achieving consensus among its member-states and Russia needs Georgia’s consent, already a WTO member, if it really wants to join the WTO.

The fifth round of negotiations between Georgia and Russia over Russia’s entry in the WTO ended without any breakthrough. Sides still cannot agree whether or not demands of Georgian government to make Russian borders with Georgia’s breakaway republics transparent are of political or economic nature.

“These

are very difficult talks, conditioned by Russia’s tough stance. We are making concessions and compromises, but Russia’s position resembles the battle of Borodino – not a step backwards,” Grigol Vashadze , Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, said at a press conference on September 13 emphasizing that the negotiations will continue.

Details of the last round of negotiations held on September 12, 2011in Switzerland are kept confidential just like all the negations held before starting April of 2011 when negotiating sides restored talks over the WTO membership stopped shortly after the August war in 2008 when Russian army routed Georgia and Russia acknowledged Georgia’s breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as sovereign republics.

Tbilisi appears reluctant to change its main requirement on the transparency of borders with Russia in Georgia’s breakaway republics and appears ready to accept the international observers on the administrative borders. Currently Russian officials monitor the posts and Georgian side cannot control the turnover of goods that poses security and contraband risks, Georgian top officials say.

To solve the problem Georgia proposed three versions. Initially it demanded restoration of Georgian customs supervision on cross points. Then it proposed to control borders mutually together with Russian side. Now Tbilisi offers “a compromise solution” involving deployment of international monitors on the questioned borders.

Moscow finds all of them unrealistic and blames Georgia in “politicizing” WTO talks. Moreover Moscow hinted several time that it can join the global trade club without Georgian consent as far as there were precedents when some countries became the WTO members without common consensus.

But according to  Keith Rockwell, a Spokesperson of WTO, the only precedent when a country joined the international trade club by majority voting was Ecuador just after creation the WTO in 1995 although this majority voting was rather a formality as far as the common consensus had already been achieved among the WTO member-states.

“Ecuador was the first and only WTO accession on which there was a vote. Very importantly, a consensus was reached on the negotiated accession documents for Ecuador before that 1995 vote was held,” Rockwell informed.

In his recent press-conference with the international journalists early in September Rockwell stressed that the traditional and preferable method of making decision at the WTO is to find consensus and that’s what all members wish to continue by operating because through consensus system method your interests are protected.

Some Georgian economic analysts do not rule out that the EU and the US been vitally interested to have Russia within the WTO would rather make a precedent for Russia if Georgia does not change its mind and recommend Georgian government to focus on more economic demands like negotiation on  lifting trade embargo imposed by Russia on Georgia in 2006 thanks to which Georgia lost its top trade partner covering about 90% of Georgian export.

Levan Kalandadze, an economic analyst, presumes Russia knocking the WTO door for 17 years is ready to go on this concession so as to enrol the global trade membership this year. On the other hand Moscow once having recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent republics in 2008 is never supposed to agree on restoration of Georgian state control over borders in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“The EU and the US made it categorically clear to Georgia that they would like to have Russia, one of the major global economies, within the WTO and the WTO talks is no mechanism to solve political issues,” Kalandadze said.  He fears confrontation with the international opinion may lead only to a deadlock and Georgia may lose a game; it can lose a chance to get back to Russian market that actually can be used as a platform for political reconciliation process with Russia.

Others believe the WTO will not change its key membership principle based on consensus and Russia needs Georgia’s consent this way or other.

Demur Giorkhelidze, an economic analyst, who also advocated an idea to negotiate more economic than political issues with Russia, thinks now that Georgia has less chance to use its WTO talks with Russia to find solution to any problem as far as Russia seems not willing to join the global trade club in the near future.

“I do not think that we can negotiate things that are handy to us at the moment with Russia in the WTO talks as Russia seems reluctant to join the WTO that means to become transparent and open market. Russia does not want to become transparent and lose control over its resources,” he said.

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