Russia overflight fees to end with WTO accession

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Russia's "discriminatory charges" levied on European airlines for their right to fly over Siberia will be dropped after the country joins the WTO, an European Union official said Monday.

"Last week, after the negotiations, it was decided to abolish the discriminatory charges paid by the EU carriers," said Fernando Valenzuela, head of the European Union delegation to Russia, referring to the EU-Russia summit in Brussels scheduled for December 7.

"The charges will be cancelled after Russia becomes a member of the WTO," he added.

Russia is the last major economy that is not part of the Geneva-based global trade body. It first opened its bid to join in 1993.

Russia last week said that it had resolved all outstanding economic disputes with the European Union, with President Dmitry Medvedev expected to finalise a formal membership agreement during the Brussels talks.

Airlines have to pay Russia overflight royalties for non-stop Asia-bound flights over Siberia. The fees were introduced in Soviet times and have been paid in recent years to state-controlled carrier Aeroflot.

Analysts have estimated annual overflight royalties to amount up to 400 million dollars.

European carriers have long complained about the fees while EU authorities have said they defy European antitrust regulations. Russia agreed in 2006 to start reducing the fees in 2010 and completely end them in 2013.

The summit in Brussels will also pave the way to easing the visa regime between Russia an Europe, said Valenzuela.

"We will need to move toward easing the visa regime in order to make it simpler and cheaper both for EU citizens and the Russians," he said.

The relations between Moscow and the EU "have evidently improved in the past several years," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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