EU opens WTO door to Russia in 'milestone' deal
The European Union backed Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization in a "milestone" deal Tuesday that finally opens the door to Moscow's accession in 2011 after 17 years of negotiations.
"We've reached a very important agreement," said President Dmitry Medvedev at a one-day EU-Russia summit. "I'm very satisfied."
Russia is the last major world power still outside the global trade body and the deal with the world's largest trading bloc clears a crucial hurdle for Moscow's possible accession as early as next year.
"We have achieved a breakthrough," European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said after talks with Medvedev and EU President Herman Van Rompuy.
He added that Russia's hope for 2011 entry "is a realistic perspective."
The agreement settled the last trade sticking-points between the two sides after a compromise on tariff barriers reached November 24 that needed last-minute ironing-out -- tariffs on wood and rail freight.
Moscow, which complains it has had to negotiate longer than anyone else to join the Geneva-based body, in October also won US backing for accession. "This was our most successful year," said Medvedev.
Talks between the two sides still need to overcome remaining obstacles however, according to a European diplomat, including tariff cuts on European meat imports and overflight charges levied against European planes for the right to pass over Siberia.
And while European businesses complain of administrative problems in setting up shop or investing in Russia, Russian firms also find fault with what they say is EU protectionism.
The issue of dropping visa requirements for Russians coming to the EU also came up at the summit, but while both sides said a to-do list was drawn up, Barroso dubbed talks on the question as "ongoing" while Medvedev insisted "this matter is of great concern to Russian citizens."
"There should be no visas and secondly we need to achieve this goal without disbalances," Medvedev said.
The 27-nation bloc is pushing for tighter Russian border and passport controls.
Barroso also warned against a new gas crisis in the winter between Moscow and Kiev that could cut shipments to Europe, as has been the case.
"I'm not expecting this to happen again," Barroso said.
A cautious Medvedev retorted there would be no problems if Ukraine paid for its Russian gas. "The best guarantee is money for gas supplies," he said.
Van Rompuy said human rights and Medvedev's "historic" commitment to modernise the Russian economy had been among main points of the summit talks, along with efforts for a global economic recovery.
Asked for his view of the drama unfolding in the eurozone nations, Medvedev said Moscow was "preoccupied" and watching events but remained optimistic for the future of the currency.
"We are of course preoccupied by this topic," Medvedev told journalists. "As far as I can see," he added, European nations have taken "sound reasonable and coordinated steps" to redress the situation and the euro has been proved "legitimate and valid."
"We're convinced the euro has good prospects," he concluded.
Russia has invested massively in the euro, with its currency reserves at 43.8 percent in the euro early this year.
Held during the Cancun climate talks and a resumption of the long-stalled Iran nuclear talks in Geneva, the two sides were also expected to address these questions during further talks over dinner.
The Brussels summit provides a stage to celebrate a new era of warmer ties between Russia and the West as signalled at last month's NATO summit in Lisbon.
Medvedev symbolically flew into Brussels from a historic visit to former Soviet-era satellite nation Poland, the first by a Russian head of state in nine years.
"The visit to Poland clearly had a positive impact on our relations," Medvedev said on Twitter.
"On to the Brussels summit devoted to economic modernisation and visas."
© 2010 AFP