Russia expected to join WTO

John Dimsdale Nov 10, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Russia is by far the world’s largest economy not in the World Trade Organization. But the biggest economy in the club has been throwing down the blackball for years. Washington’s worried about everything from U.S. pork producers to intellectual property rights. Today the two sides said they’ve reached an agreement. It’s not actually a done deal yet. The paperwork between the U.S. and Russia won’t be signed until next week. And there are multilateral negotations yet to wrap up. But, Marketplace’s John Dimsdale reports from Washington, U.S. exporters might want to start brushing up on their Russian.

JOHN DIMSDALE: Russia is the world’s biggest intellectual property crook after China. According to the U.S., Russia is home not only to websites hawking cheap music and films, but huge optical-disc factories that crank out pirated CDs and DVDs. U.S. pharmaceutical companies also complain about a flood of knock-off Russian drugs.

And then there are Russian barriers to U.S. exports of beef, pork and chicken. Gary Hufbauer is a trade expert with the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

GARY HUFBAUER: The Russians would like to retain the ability to use health inspection as a trade barrier.

So the U.S. has been the lone hold-out preventing Russia’s admission to the WTO. Today, the two countries announced an agreement that should pave the way for Russia to become the organization’s 150th member. As part of the deal, which was reached just in time for George Bush and Vladimir Putin to sign it when they meet next week, Russia promises to do better on copyright protections and lowering trade barriers.

WTO membership for Russia will open up new opportunities for U.S. businesses, especially in the services industries, says Hufbauer.

HUFBAUER: Russia is quite protective on banks, on insurance, stock exchange, mutual funds . . . But also on Wal-Mart opening up, McDonalds and so forth. They’re not very liberal on retail services, wholesale services, financial services . . . a lot of protection there.

Before Russia can join the world trade group, Congress will have to waive a Soviet-era sanction on U.S. trade with Russia. A final WTO agreement may still be another 12 to 18 months away.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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