When Lobsters Whistle on Mountains

Following years of negotiations with the EU on issues from protectionism to IP infringement Russia finally looked poised to enter the WTO by the end of this year.  This was, of course, until the predictably unpredictable leaders of the Russian government announced that they would only enter the WTO as a “customs union” of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan.  News reports from the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal contain the shocked reactions of many of the EU and US negotiators to the announcement from Mr. Putin.

From FT:

Mr Putin’s announcement that Russia was scrapping talks as an individual nation came days after senior EU and US trade officials held top-level talks at the St Petersburg investment forum in which Russian officials said they were committed to ironing out differences to ensure Russia’s soonest possible entry.

… a [EU trade commission] spokesman added that during the talks in St Petersburg “the Russian side said it was committed to WTO accession by the end of the year. But should the basic parameters of these negotiations be changed this would create a new situation.”

Belarus, Russia, and Kazakhstan, although sharing a common historical and cultural heritage, are each at a different threshold of economic development.  It has taken Russia 16 year of on-again/off-again negotiations to reach agreement, but with two additional partners now joining a new bid it looks as if the negotiations are back to square one.  I would say the chances of Russia joining the WTO this year are unlikely – or – to borrow a Russian phrase they will enter the WTO когда рак на горе свистнет (when a lobster whistles on a mountain).

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