Georgia agrees 'final proposal' in Russia WTO talks
Georgia said Thursday that it has accepted a "final proposal" from Swiss mediators aimed at overcoming one of the last barriers to Russia's WTO membership, which Moscow hopes to secure this year.
"The Swiss made a final proposal which is acceptable for Georgia. If Russia agrees, it will become a WTO member," Georgia's chief negotiator at the talks in Switzerland, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergi Kapanadze, told AFP.
"The mediators believe that this is really a final option," he said.
Russia -- whose prolonged bid for WTO entry has become one of the biggest headaches in its relations with the West -- said it would give its response in the coming week.
The dire relations between Russia and WTO member Georgia, with whom Moscow fought a brief war in 2008, have emerged as one of the most significant obstacles in the way of Russian entry to the global trade body.
"We need a few days to specify our position but we can give the response next week," the ITAR-TASS news agency quoted Russia's envoy to the talks Maxim Medvedkov as saying from Geneva.
"The date for negotiations has not been specified but likely they will take place next week," he added.
Tbilisi has been demanding international monitoring of cross-border trade in the Russian-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which were recognised as independent states by Moscow after the Georgia-Russia war in 2008 but are regarded by most of the world as parts of Georgian territory.
The proposed compromise deal would see a private company contracted by a third international party physically and electronically monitoring goods entering and leaving the breakaway regions, according to Georgian officials.
Ex-Soviet Georgia says it is in favour of Russian membership of the WTO but its conditions for agreeing to allow its powerful neighbour to join have threatened to derail Russia's efforts to finally become a member.
As a WTO member, Georgia has the right to veto any new entrant and Tbilisi has been keen to use one of its few levers of international influence amid its continuing disputes with Moscow, which it accuses of occupying Abkhazia and South Ossetia with thousands of troops since the war.
Moscow has so far dismissed Tbilisi's conditions and has suggested that it could bypass any Georgian veto if a vote on Russian membership was held among WTO members.
Some media reports have suggested that Georgia's Western partners have been putting pressure on Tbilisi to enable Russia to join quickly but a senior Georgian official denied this.
"At no stage, no partner of Georgia -- either the US or the EU -- has pressured or suggested to us that the longstanding WTO rule of consensus will be broken and Georgia will be sidestepped through a vote," the head of Georgia's National Security Council Giga Bokeria told AFP.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has usually spoken of WTO entry as a key plank in his programme of modernising the economy but strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has blown hot and cold on the issue.
Putin earlier this month accused the West of using Georgia's conditions as an excuse for keeping it out of the body and said Moscow would simply not join if "unacceptable" conditions were imposed.
"As to whether I think this (WTO membership) will benefit Russia or not ... fifty-fifty. But in all, it's more a plus than a minus," Putin said.
Russia, which opened negotiations to join in 1993, is the largest economy in the world to remain outside the WTO and has long expressed frustration with delays in its accession bid.
© 2011 AFP