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Negotiators agree on final terms for Russia to join world trade body

GENEVA — Russia cleared a major hurdle toward opening up its huge oil-driven economy Thursday, with negotiators agreeing to final terms that would allow it to join the World Trade Organization after an 18-year effort.

Until now, Russia has been the only member of the Group of 20 leading economies still outside the WTO. A panel of WTO negotiators put their stamp of approval Thursday on a package of terms for Russian membership that is expected to be signed by trade ministers at a WTO high-level meeting in mid-December.

Once that is approved, Russia's membership would take effect 30 days after it notifies WTO that it has ratified the treaty — presumably early next year.

As part of the deal, Russia has agreed to gradually lower its average tariff ceiling to 7.8 percent from its current 10 percent.

Tariffs on agriculture products will drop to 10.8 percent from 13.2 percent, and tariffs on manufactured goods will be lowered to 7.3 percent from an average this year of 9.5 percent.

Russia has pledged no tariffs on cotton and information technology products.

Foreign manufacturers had been closely watching what tariffs Moscow would accept, and whether it would cave to outside demands for tighter enforcement of intellectual property rights.

WTO's director general, Pascal Lamy, said Russia has taken "a big step" by joining the Geneva-based international organization where nations agree to abide by trade rules, and hammer out their disputes in binding agreements.

"In acceding to the WTO, Russia embraces a series of rules and commitments that are the foundation of an open, transparent and nondiscriminatory global trading system," he said.

"This win-win result will bring Russia more firmly into the global economy and make it (a) more attractive place to do business."

The European Union's top trade official, Karel De Gucht, also welcomed the agreement. The 27-nation bloc is Russia's biggest trading partner. EU nations imported a €158.6 billion worth of goods — mostly oil and gas — from Russia last year, while exporting some €86.1 billion worth of machinery, automobiles and farm products.

A day earlier at WTO headquarters in Geneva, Russia signed a deal with Georgia, its neighbor and one-time foe, that removed the last major obstacle to Moscow's membership.

The deal would essentially involve a neutral company monitoring all trade between the two nations, including the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

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