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Tbilisi Threatens Russia’s WTO Accession
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 24 Mar.'06 / 02:01

Tbilisi and Moscow have failed to find a common position over the terms of Russia’s accession into the World Trade Organization (WTO) during talks in Geneva, RIA Novosti news agency reported on March 23. 

As a member of the WTO, Georgia refuses to give its go-ahead to Russia’s WTO accession unless Moscow meets a number of Tbilisi’s requirements. One out of four major demands by Georgia is directly linked to the secessionist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which further complicates negotiations between the two neighbors. 

Georgian Economy Minister Irakli Chogovadze outlined Tbilisi’s position at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong in December, 2005. He said that while Georgia supports Ukraine and Kazakhstan’s accession to the organization, talks over Russia’s membership have not yet finished.

Putting an end to two illegal border checkpoints - Adleri-Leselidze, at the border between Russia and breakaway Abkhazia, and the Roki Tunnel, at the border between Russia and breakaway South Ossetia – is Georgia’s major demand.

Tbilisi claims that the illegal turnover of goods through these border checkpoints violates the Georgian-Russian agreement on customs and is in contradiction to the “basic principles of WTO.”

Legalization of these border checkpoints means deployment of Georgian customs officers to these breakaway regions; hence Russia claims that this is a purely politically-motivated demand, which has nothing to do with WTO accession talks.

The other three demands being made by Tbilisi are:

  • to take measures against falsified Georgian products, mainly wine and mineral waters being sold on the Russian market;
  • to gives up the practice of unilaterally banning imports of Georgian agricultural products to Russia;
  • to let the import of wine and spirits through the Zemo Larsi border checkpoint.

Maksim Medvedkov, the Russian chief negotiator from the Economy Development Ministry, told RIA Novosti after talks with the Georgian delegation that the Russian side can agree only on one issue, related with measures against falsified Georgian products being sold on the Russian market.

“We have not brought our positions closer… From those four issues put forth by the Georgian side, only one – and we can agree over this issue – is directly linked to our [Russia’s] future commitments under the WTO,” Maksim Medvedkov said.

“Unfortunately, there is no solution yet… Those arguments put forth by the Russian delegation are not convincing for us. That is why we have made no progress,” said Tamar Kovziridze, Deputy Economy Minister and chief Georgian negotiator, said.

Georgia’s stance on Russia accession into the WTO has always been determined by the level of political relations between the two countries.

In December, 2002, against the background of extremely tense relations between Tbilisi and Moscow, the Georgian Parliament passed a resolution instructing the government to veto Russia’s WTO membership.

However, in February, 2004 the Georgian Parliament lifted this ban and suspended its previous resolution, as at that time Georgia wanted to show signs of its readiness to defuse tensions with Russia.

President Saakashvili even stated during that time that “Georgian businessmen will benefit” from Russia’s WTO membership.

As a result, then-Georgian Economy Minister Irakli Rekhviashvili and Russian Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref signed an agreement in Tbilisi on May 28, 2004 giving Georgia’s go-ahead to Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

But as relations between the two countries hit new low, Georgia started to accuse Russia of violating the May 28, 2004 agreement and put forth demands which Tbilisi hopes to use in its attempts to regain control over the breakaway regions.

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