Russia may complete all required procedures for accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and join the trade body next year, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said on Tuesday.
"We are through with nine-tenths of the negotiations, and one- tenth is still ahead. This is not an easy phase," Gref told a news conference after returning from Vietnam, where Russia and the United States signed a bilateral WTO accession deal on the sidelines of the summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Russia - the largest economy still outside the Geneva-based WTO - has been negotiating for membership since 1993. The U.S. deal cleared the last major hurdle to Moscow's longtime bid to join the world trade body, Xinhua reports.
Russia may complete multilateral negotiations by July 2007 and then the accession document will be ratified at parliament and a ministerial conference will be held, Gref said.
Georgia has threatened to block Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization if the two countries fail to agree on customs regulations and resume talks on the ban of key exports to Russia.
In a joint statement released late Monday the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry for Economic Development said the Georgian government was "interested in Russia's entry to WTO," but added that if the agreement is not reached, "the process of Russia's accession to WTO will be suspended."
Georgia demands that Russia stop trading with its two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and that all goods pass through checkpoints run by the central government.
"We will be very principled and we won't compromise in anything for the sake of defending our interests," said the newly appointed Economic Development Minister Georgy Arveladze.
The statement comes days after Russia secured a much-sought bilateral agreement with the United States, removing the last major obstacle in Moscow's 13-year journey to join the world's biggest trading club.
To become a WTO member, Russia must secure similar agreements with all its major trading partners in the body. Georgia, which has already concluded such a deal with Russia, has suggested that it would re-negotiate terms or recall the agreement because of what it calls illegal trade and because of a Russian ban on Georgian wine and mineral water.
Moscow banned the goods in spring, citing quality concerns. Tbilisi claims the ban is punishment for its pro-Western course, the AP reports.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik
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