Russia, Georgia to start WTO talks: official

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Georgia will this week start formal talks on Russia's membership in the World Trade Organization, which it has opposed amid tensions following the two sides' 2008 war, the foreign ministry said Monday.

The talks will start on either Friday or Saturday in the Swiss capital Bern, Georgia's Deputy Foreign Minister Nikoloz Vashakidze told reporters.

"The Georgian side has always expressed a readiness for negotiations," Vashakidze said. "We have received an official initiative from the Russian side to launch the talks."

Georgia's opposition to Russia joining the WTO has threatened to derail Moscow's efforts to finally become a member of the global trade body.

As a WTO member, tiny ex-Soviet Georgia has the right to veto any new entrant and Tbilisi has been keen to use one of its few levers of international influence over Moscow.

Georgia's demand that Russia allow it to set up border checkpoints in Russian-backed rebel Georgian provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is all but impossible since Moscow recognised both regions as independent states after the war.

Russia, which opened negotiations to join the WTO in 1993, is the largest economy to remain outside the Geneva-based body.

© 2011 AFP

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