U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk expressed a positive tone on Russia’s World Trade Organization (WTO) membership prospects this week following a meeting in Washington with Russia to meet its objective of concluding the WTO negotiations by the end of the year. In a USTR statement, Kirk said he has confidence that remaining issues, including satisfactory resolution of bilateral discussions between Russia and Georgia, would be addressed constructively and in a manner enabling Russia to meet its objective of concluding the WTO negotiations by the end of the year, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, according to a BNA report.  “We had a very productive conversation about Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization,” Kirk added that Russia “has made great progress on its accession bid.”

In the latest sign that the Russia accession talks are edging towards conclusion, the WTO Secretariat circulated to members on October 4 a revised draft working party report that will serve as the basis for the final round of negotiations.  The draft is the first formal revision to the working party report since October 2004 and the fourth since the Russia’s WTO accession talks began in earnest more than 10 years ago.

One issue on which disagreements remain concerns Russia’s sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures on imported agricultural goods.  The United States, in particular, has said Russia is imposing arbitrary SPS controls on food imports in order to protect local producers and has called on the Russian government to adhere to international food safety norms.  However, officials said a late September meeting in Geneva between Russia and WTO members dedicated to SPS issues resolved many of the outstanding issues, with one official describing the progress as “very significant.”

In addition, Russia and key farm exporting countries have essentially wrapped up their negotiations on tariff rate quotas for Russian imports of poultry, beef, and pork, which is another longstanding sticking point in the negotiations.  Under a work program set out by the chairman of the Russian accession talks last July, the working party on Russian accession will meet later this month to review the draft working party report.  In mid-November a meeting will be held to adopt the final membership package and send it to the December 15-17 ministerial for approval.  In addition to the working party report, the final accession package will include schedules setting out Russia’s market access commitments for imported goods and services and a protocol of accession, according to a BNA report.