On Tuesday, Vedemosti reported:
On Monday, at an event titled "Russia in the WTO: Prospects and Strategic Possibilities," Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said Russia expected to conclude bilateral talks on World Trade Organization membership with Vietnam and Cambodia by the end of May. He also said that he expected to conclude multilateral talks with the organization as a whole by the end of July, meaning that Russia would gain membership to the trade body "by the end of 2007, or in the worst case in the early part of next year." The outcome of negotiations with Georgia, the last bilateral deal that has to be sealed, is still unclear, but Moscow can probably expect help from Washington on this front. Last week U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez expressed unconditional support for Russian WTO accession.
Once again, it seems the Kremlin has got carried away with itself. During the St. Petersburg G-8 meeting, as LR reported then, Alexei Kudrin declared Russia was minutes away from WTO admission. Didn't happen. Now, the Moscow Times reports that Gref is caught equally far off base. Once again, we see Russia living in a world of illusion of its own making, utterly detached from reality and heedless of the consequences, just as in Soviet times.
A senior U.S. trade official said Russia was making only slow progress toward entering the World Trade Organization and that Congress was not close to dropping a key trade restriction.
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab appeared to be taking a harder line than U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who said last week that the United States would do all it could to help Russia enter the WTO.
Schwab said Monday that Congress was not ready to repeal Cold War-era legislation known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment to normalize trade relations with Russia.
"The question that I get asked when it comes to Jackson-Vanik and permanent normal trade relations with Russia is: 'Is the WTO ready to let Russia in?' And the answer is: 'Not yet,'" Schwab said at a news conference in Washington.
Schwab called the news conference to announce that the United States would complain to the WTO about copyright violations in China, which is a WTO member. She mentioned Russia in response to a reporter's question.
Gretchen Hamel, a spokeswoman at the U.S. trade representative's office, was unable on Tuesday to immediately comment on Schwab's remarks.
Gutierrez sounded more upbeat about Russia's WTO progress when he visited Moscow last week. Speaking on the sidelines of an investment conference, he said the United States was "very supportive" of Russia's WTO bid and that "we want to help in any way we can."
In return, Washington expects Russia to combat intellectual property rights violations by closing plants that produce counterfeit optical disks and shutting down a popular web site for music downloads, Allofmp3.com. Russia should also better define its laws on imports of encryption technology, Gutierrez said.
Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said at the conference that it would be difficult to drastically improve protection of intellectual property rights this year.
The Economic Development and Trade Ministry had no immediate comment about Schwab's statements.
The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush and Congress appear to have decided that it would be premature to rescind Jackson-Vanik before the multilateral stage of WTO talks ends, said Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia and a strong supporter of Russia's bid.
The delay gives the U.S. business community a chance to speak to Congress members about what they are doing in Russia, he said. "We've already started this process," he said. "I travel to the U.S. every two weeks and speak with congressmen and senators."
Sergei Prikhodko, President Vladimir Putin's adviser on foreign affairs, said Tuesday that the United States was living in the past by refusing to lift Jackson-Vanik.
"This legislation was adopted in the time of the Soviet Union as a reaction to discrimination by the Soviet authorities in terms of restricting people's movement," Prikhodko said at a news conference. "Is anything like that happening now? Then why is this measure still in force? Russians are free to travel anywhere they want."
Jackson-Vanik was adopted in the 1970s in response to Soviet restrictions on the rights of Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate.
Prikhodko said Russia had as much right to be in the WTO as any current member.
"Our results over the past few years -- in macroeconomics and in the development of every industry, not only the ones that extract resources -- show that we in no way lag behind the dozens of other countries that are WTO members," he said.
But, he acknowledged: "Perhaps we still have work to do."
State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Pekhtin criticized Schwab's remarks as an example of U.S. double standards in dealing with Russia. "The U.S. is restricting Russia's chances of joining the WTO, and that can't fail to worry us," he said, Interfax reported.
Russia hopes to join the WTO before Putin leaves office early next year. Schwab sounded a more optimistic note in November when Washington and Moscow announced the completion of bilateral talks over WTO entry.
Differences, however, remain over the protection of intellectual property and agriculture.
Putin on Tuesday signed into law a raft of bills that toughen punishment for piracy. Copyright violators will face up to six years in prison, instead of five years, and a fine of up to 500,000 rubles (about $19,200).