Monday, June 22, 2009
According to various news reports, Russia apparently provided the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week with unofficial, verbal notification that it plans to suspend its accession negotiations with the WTO in favor of forming a regional customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan by January 2010. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had suggested that this move was coming in comments made earlier this month. He stated that the WTO will receive offical documents shortly. He also stated that Russia may be interested in negotiating accession to the WTO as part of the customs union, rather than as an independent state. Russia had been negotiating accession to the WTO for the past 16 years. It is not clear what caused this change of policy. Some commentators have suggested that Russia is frustrated by the slow pace of accession negotiations and wants the WTO to realize the importance of having Russia as a member. Other commentators have suggested the change in policy reflects internal divisions within Russia's government. Whatever the reason, it will almost certainly further delay accession as all the commitments negotiated between Russia and the various members of the WTO will have to be scrapped and negotiations will have to begin again with the customs union, if and when it is formed.