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Georgia talks to ease Russia WTO entry ‘fail’: Tbilisi

Swiss-mediated talks between foes Georgia and Russia aimed at removing one of the last barriers to Moscow’s entry to the World Trade Organisation have “failed”, a Georgian official said on Saturday.

“The talks have failed. An agreement has not been reached,” Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergi Kapanadze told AFP after attending the latest round of negotiations in Switzerland.

Tbilisi has been demanding international monitoring of border crossings 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 Georgia as parts of its sovereign territory.

Kapanadze said that a Swiss proposal involving “monitoring of trade corridors by international observers” had been agreed by Georgia but rejected by Russia.

“If Russia’s position remains unchanged, I see no reason to convene the next round of negotiations,” he said.

But he added that if the Swiss mediators believed that more talks were necessary, “Georgia is ready to continue the negotiations”.

Ex-Soviet Georgia’s conditions for agreeing to allow neighbour Russia to join the global trade body have threatened to derail Moscow’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.

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.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin this week accused the West of using Georgia’s refusal to back Russia’s bid to join the WTO as an excuse for keeping it out of the world’s main free trade club.

“I have a question on this: do our main partners want Russia to be a WTO member or not? No need to hide behind the Georgian question, if they want to, then they can do it very quickly,” Putin said.

However US Vice President Joe Biden said this week that he hoped the Georgia-Russia talks would be successful and stated that Moscow’s bid to join the WTO had Washington’s backing.

Following a meeting on Monday with Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, Biden’s office issued a statement in which the vice president “affirmed US support for Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organisation.”

“The vice president encouraged the successful conclusion of ongoing talks between Russia and Georgia with respect to Russia’s WTO accession,” it said.

The United States moved to block Moscow’s entry after the 2008 Russian military intervention in Georgia, but relations between the two former Cold War adversaries have eased since President Barack Obama assumed office in 2009.