(USINFO.STATE.GOV) - The United States and Russia are very close to a key bilateral agreement on Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), said U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns during an online discussion July 18.
Burns said that after intensive discussion before and during the Group of Eight (G8) summit, negotiators are very close to a bilateral WTO agreement with Russia, one of the last hurdles to Russia's formal accession. Our two lead negotiators have said that we ought to be able to sign a mutually beneficial bilateral agreement in October.
Accession requires both bilateral and multilateral negotiations with existing WTO members on how Russia will transform its trade regime to conform to WTO rules, reports Trend.
President Bush said July 15 during the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, that a bilateral agreement with Russia was almost reached, although he added that theres more work to be done on some issues before the deal could be approved by the U.S. Congress.
We want Russian accession to the WTO, and the negotiations to achieve this would continue in good faith, Bush said.
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said significant progress was made during the talks. Once a deal is reached, Russias WTO accession then will move on to a multilateral process, she said.
Burns said during the July 18 online discussion the State Departments Ask the Ambassador program -- that Russia's accession to the WTO would be one of the most effective ways to promote fair trade.
He acknowledged that corruption continues to be a major concern of both the Russian people, according to polls, and U.S. companies trying to do business with Russia.
Corruption is a serious and growing problem here, much bigger than it was in my last experience in Russia a decade ago, the ambassador said. It's going to take a lot of strong leadership and hard work to make a significant dent in the problem.
He said Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken several steps to remove allegedly corrupt officials, and that the United States is supporting training programs for judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials aimed at promoting budget transparency and competitive procurement.
Burns also said a middle class is beginning to emerge in Russia. Although it is not a cure-all for the problems Russia faces, a tax-paying, politically engaged middle class can provide the core constituency for the kind of institutions that protect people's interests in fair economic competition and good governance, he said.
That is a trend that simply didn't exist when I last lived and worked in Russia ten years ago, and it holds a great deal of promise for the future, although it will not happen overnight, Burns said.
During the G8 summit, President Bush unveiled an initiative to support business training and entrepreneurial skills among the next generation of Russians, the ambassador said. The program, called the U.S.-Russian Foundation for Economic Advancement and Rule of Law," is a very good investment in Russia's future, as well as our own, Burns said.
U.S.-RUSSIAN COOPERATION ON NUCLEAR NONPROLIFERATION
Burns was asked by a webchat participant about U.S.-Russian cooperation in fighting terrorism and nuclear proliferation. He said Bush and Putin had announced during the G8 summit a new international initiative to prevent nuclear terrorism and stop the spread of nuclear and radioactive materials.
This is one area in which U.S.-Russian partnership can really make a difference and the two countries have a responsibility to show leadership, Burns said.
We've made a lot of progress over the last decade in tightening security at our own installations, and expect to help Russia complete security upgrades at its nuclear installations by the end of 2008, he said.
For additional information, see related articles on the Bush-Putin announcement and an overview of the initiative by State Department Under Secretary Robert Joseph.
Burns also acknowledged the concerns of human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) about a new Russian NGO law.
President Bush heard some of those worries from a group of young Russian civil society leaders with whom he met in St. Petersburg on July 14.
According to Burns, Putin said recently that he did not seek to constrain the role of civil society in Russia. The United States will keep a careful eye on implementation of the law, and urge that it not be used to make life harder for NGOs who already contribute so much to Russia in areas ranging from education to health care to human rights, the ambassador added.