Russian trade-off for WTO

Accession to the WTO may bring benefits, but the terms for joining are not neccesarily favourable for Russia

Alexander Muranov
Alexander Muranov

The signing of the protocol on the accession of Russia to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) last December was an event that made history.

As a lawyer focusing on international trade issues, I can only welcome this development. I see a lot of benefits from Russia integrating into the WTO environment. For example, the WTO requires absolute transparency and constant promotion of competition within the new country member, both of which are essential for Russia’s further development.

But what really concerns me is that the terms of Russia’s accession are far from favourable for the country. The negotiations on entering the WTO conducted by Russia’s government for the past 15 years finally resulted in unreasonable concessions to foreign persons in respect of Russia’s obligations in various services sectors.

It is evident that Russia’s delegation eventually made huge concessions in various sectors of services, both compared with previous versions of documents on Russia’s obligations and the relevant obligations accepted by other Bric countries. For instance, the scope of obligations assumed by India and Brazil in connection with the access of foreign persons from the WTO member states to their markets is much narrower. China’s commitments in certain services sectors is closer to those of Russia but its delegation managed to include reservations in the texts of obligations.

The other issue is that no information was disclosed by the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation throughout the negotiation process and only general information on the WTO was published in open sources.

These negotiations were conducted behind closed doors without any serious consultation with many Russian manufacturers of goods or services providers, lawyers or Russian regional authorities. Neither were professional lawyers included in the official Russian delegation during various rounds of talks with the WTO, including negotiations on Russia’s commitments on the legal services market.

This results in a serious lack of information, with the Russian business community and civil society, as well as the parliament members responsible for the WTO documents’ ratification, lacking the full picture and understanding of the volume and nature of the obligations.

At the same time, the Russian texts of its obligations that were published on the Russian Ministry of Economic Development’s website are of an unacceptably low level from a legal viewpoint, although these texts are claimed to be unofficial. For example, the incorrect translation of Russia’s obligations contains a number of legal and technical inaccuracies and inconsistencies between the English and Russian versions.

There are various points of views on whether Russia’s upcoming accession to the WTO is beneficial for our country or not. And every party has a right to defend its own position through all ways that are legal.

In any case, the people who will definitely benefit are the lawyers. They will benefit whether the accession provides huge opportunities and Russian business expands drastically worldwide, or whether the result is the financial collapse of key Russian companies. Either scenario will require additional services from lawyers, including Russian ones.