|Russia close to decision on WTO deal with Georgia|
|Tuesday, 01 November 2011|
By Margarita Antidze
TBILISI, Oct 31—Russia has asked for another day to consider a compromise deal with Georgia which would enable it to join the World Trade Organization, 18 years after it submitted its application, a senior Georgian official told Reuters on Monday.
Swiss mediators have been trying to hammer out a deal between the two neighbours, which fought a brief war in 2008, that would remove the last barrier to Moscow's WTO membership.
Georgia, an ex-Soviet republic, has already accepted the deal, and Russian acceptance would enable Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to achieve his ambition of joining the 153-member global trade body in time to run for president in March 2012.
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey held more than five hours of talks with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in the Black Sea resort of Batumi on Monday after negotiations with Kremlin chief Dmitry Medvedev outside Moscow on Sunday.
Swiss mediators phoned Moscow several times during the talks with Saakashvili to clarify points of a deal under which Russia would accept monitoring of trade in two Georgian breakaway regions which it supports, a senior Georgian diplomat said.
"Russia requested some more time, until tomorrow, to provide their final response to the mediators' proposal," Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergi Kapanadze told Reuters by telephone.
"I can tell you that the text of the (Swiss) proposal remains unchanged," he said, adding that Russia had raised issues which could have changed the whole nature of the deal.
The United States said the Swiss-mediated talks were going well and Washington was encouraged but the negotiations were not over yet.
"Our understanding is that the talks are going quite well. We are encouraged by the progress. They are not finished yet, however," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
"The Georgians have accepted the Swiss proposal. The Russians are studying it ... We remain hopeful that this will be a good avenue for resolving the outstanding issues."
Russian WTO entry would further open up its economy, worth about $1.9 trillion a year or 2.8 percent of the global economy, to international competition, and supporters say WTO rules could help increase investment in the world's biggest energy producer.
The final decision will lie with Putin, who has not yet commented publicly on the Swiss proposals. Though generally positive on Russian WTO entry, Putin derailed the slow accession process in 2009 by forming a customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus.
Russia's economy could gain one percentage point of growth per year for the next 15-20 years and the benchmark RTS stock index could jump on accession, according to estimates cited by Moscow-based investment bank, Renaissance Capital.
© Thomson Reuters 2011. All rights reserved.
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