Russia’s WTO Membership — Good for Trade? — Yes.

The 8th Ministerial Conference of the WTO meeting this week in Geneva is expected to accept Russia as a WTO Member. Interestingly, this follows close on the heels of China’s 10th anniversary of  joining the WTO.
China’s accession to the WTO was one of President Clinton’s greatest achievements in global trade along with getting Congress to accept NAFTA and the WTO in the mid-1990’s. I wonder if the same will be said of President Obama’s role in the Russian accession process ten years hence.
Russia has agreed to open further its trade regime and to accelerate integration in the world economy. Under the terms of the accession agreement Russia will subject trade disputes to WTO adjudication. It will apply all WTO provisions, with recourse to very few  transitional periods. This is particularly unusual.
Russia wants more trade and investment. It especially wants more foreign investment into its oil and energy sectors.
Russia’s extensive commitments include the following:
…The final tariff ceiling will be 7.8% compared to a current average of 10% for all products;
… Russia will accept specific commitments to 11 services sectors and 116 sub-sectors;
… Export duties will be fixed for over 700 tariff lines;
… Quantitative restrictions on imports that are not justified under WTO provisions will  be eliminated;
… Russia undertakes to join the Government Procurement Agreement;
…Russia will eliminate all industrial subsidies;
…Russia will observe the TRIPS Agreement without recourse to a transitional period;
…Russia will take action against websites (with servers located in Russia) that promote illegal distribution of content protected by copyright or related rights.

Russia’s membership will be finalized when it ratifies the accession agreement. This is expected to be shortly after the WTO ministerial meeting. Subjecting intellectual property rights, web abuse, and trade disputes to a rules-based system with powers to adjudicate and to impose sanctions is good for the trading system. Of course, nothing will be easy and these matters will need to be closely monitored.

Russia’s membership into the WTO enhances the centrality of the WTO in global trade governance and extends the rules of global trade, with its dispute resolution system, to the largest remaining economy outside of the WTO. This is good and should remove some unpredictability to doing business in Russia. This can only help Russia’s economic development.

Russia’s membership in the WTO is certainly a good thing for U.S. trade, global trade and international relations as nations proceed to deal with an increasingly inter-connected world of politics, trade and national security.

The U.S. Congress needs to adjust the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, but that’s another story and an over-looked problem. The pending Magnitsky Bill and its focus on human rights focuses U.S. – Russia relations more in the context of competing views of  human rights  than on promoting global trade and a stable bilateral relationship.

The potential failure of Congress to revoke Jackson-Vanik, a product of the Cold War, during this election year would put U.S. multinationals and others at a huge disadvantage.  This would preclude them from participating in a growing marketplace fueled by oil and commodity revenues and some real economic development.

The U.S. Congress should revoke the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Cooperating in trade relations does not mean condoning Russia’s domestic activities.

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About Stuart Malawer

Distinguished Service Professor of Law & International Trade at George Mason University (School of Public Policy).
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