Head of the Information office on Russia’s accession to the wto

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Alexey Portanskiy,

Head of the Information office on Russia’s accession to the WTO

Geneva, 21.04.2005
Russia’s WTO accession negotiations started in 1995. However, Russia applied for accession to the GATT two years earlier, in 1993. A Working Party (WP) on. Consisting presently of 58 member states (with the EU as one member), it became the largest WP accession was created. After the establishment of the WTO, the WP mandate for accession to the GATT was transformed into the Working Party on Russia’s WTO accession in WTO history.
Progress during 1995-2000 (president Yeltsin era) was rather slow. This was attributable in part to the huge task of building new institutions, the resistance of sluggish bureaucracy and lack of political commitment from the top. At the same time that was a period when there were many who sincerely believed that the West (with its active support for democratic transformations in Russia) would hand Russia a free ticket into the WTO. But the WTO is an economic organization, not a political one, and it grants free-of-charge concessions only when it is impossible to extract anything else.
President Putin accorded far more urgency and priority to the WTO accession. He deplored the fact that Russia is only major industrialized nation (apart from Ukraine) that is not yet a WTO member.
The year 2001 was a year of remarkable intensification of the Russia accession process. And that was also the year when a real dialogue with Russian business community began. Was it easy to launch this dialogue? The answer is both “YES” & “NO” at the same time.
NO” because this is the first time in the Russian history when Russian society, or a part of it, is directly involved in decision making process on the issue of the future Russia membership in an International organization. Never before, the society has been asked about. And “YES” because Russian business manifested a huge interest in discovering and understanding what is the WTO and what are the advantages of being a member.
Why the initial attitude of the Russian business to the WTO was so cautious? There were some reasons based on several fears:

  • a fear alien (WTO);

  • a fear based on wrong info or lack of information on the MTS;

  • a lack of confidence between business and the government which may have rather negative impact in a state with a steady paternalist tradition

So, the debates in Russia on the WTO accession process and future membership in this organization have been the first experience of democratic discussion and consultations on a very important issue of National economic policy.
My personal feeling is that this experience has not been failed, it was success.

The major task of our team, I mean the Russian trade policy experts, was to destroy the wrong ideas on the WTO, to show and to persuade people that there is no danger in joining the WTO and the membership will have strongly positive impact on business climate and the Russian economy.
Since 2001 we conducted around 100 workshops with business communities and local administrations across Russian regions from Vladivostok & Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (Far East of Russia) until Kaliningrad (near to Poland). This P.A.C. has brought quite positive results.
During the last 3-4 years the attitude of Russian enterprises has changed significantly. In fact it has undergone an evolution from cautious ignorance or in a number of cases active resistance to a better understanding and general approval with concerns about consequences for specific industries and provision of adequate implementation period. It is our firm conclusion that the level of knowledge is the key to turning opinions in favor of the WTO accession.
I’d like to draw your attention to some results of our last summer workshops campaign in the regions of Volga river, Altay and Kareliya Republic. In such region we organized a poll by the end of workshops. More than 70% of the participants expressed the opinion in favour of the WTO accession. While expressing concrete advantages of the WTO membership business people pointed out Simplification of customs procedures, elimination of many unjustified administrative barriers to trade. All that means the Russian business is strongly in favour of trade facilitation. (Domestic industries will get incentives for reorganization and technological improvements).
We are thankfull to the UNECE for providing a real support in organizing workshops for Russian companies on the issues of trade facilitation. I mean the workshop conducted by the Russian Chamber of Commerce in co-operation with the UN Economic Commission on Europe (UNECE), the UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade.
In fact there is not a single sector now in Russian business that is in principle against Russia’s accession to the WTO. The main concerns are “on what conditions” and “when”.

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