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EU finalises ‘breakthrough’ deal enabling Russia’s WTO entry

The EU and Russia on Tuesday finalised a “milestone” deal enabling Russia’s accession to the WTO world trade body, probably next year, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.

The deal was signed shortly before an EU-Russia summit kicked off around 1300 GMT between President Dmitry Medvedev, European Union President Herman Van Rompuy and Barroso.

It settled the last trade sticking-points between the two sides holding up Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organisation. A compromise had been reached November 24 but needed last-minute ironing-out.

“We have achieved a breakthrough in Russia’s WTO accesion on which the Commission has been working very hard,” Barroso said ahead of the talks.

“This is really a milestone. Our difficult bilateral issues are resolved. We signed a memorandum of understanding to this end today,” Barroso added.

He said Russia’s hope for accession as early as next year “is a realistic prospective.”

Moscow’s accession to the Geneva-based body “will strengthen trade rules and investment in Russia and will be beneficial to its businesses and citizens,” he added.

Medvedev made no statement on arrival but is due to join a news conference at around 1600 GMT.

Russia is the last major world power still outside the WTO.

After 17 years of negotiations, which it complains is longer than anyone else, Moscow in October won US backing for accession and is looking for membership in 2011.

Talks between the two sides still need to overcome remaining obstacles however, including Russian tariff hikes 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.