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WTO at Last

Published: November 16, 2011 (Issue # 1683)




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On Thursday in Geneva, Russia completed negotiations on its accession to the World Trade Organization. Stop for a minute and reread that last sentence with me: Russias negotiations with the WTO are completed.

It is truly a historic milestone, and, yes, it has taken 18 years to achieve. That is far too long, in my view, but I will await the doctoral dissertations and case studies that are no doubt already being written to analyze the many reasons for the long process.

Right now, I am thinking back 18 years to 1993, when I was working on the staff of the National Security Council at the White House as director for policy toward Russia during the administration of President Bill Clinton. I remember the discussions between Presidents Clinton and Boris Yeltsin and between Vice President Al Gore and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, in which they first established WTO membership as a goal. And I recall the hours of internal discussions among those of us responsible for making that goal a reality former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott; Larry Summers, a former chief economic adviser to President Barack Obama; Nicholas Burns, former undersecretary of state for political affairs; and Vladimir Lukin, Russias former ambassador to Washington. So I feel a sense of personal satisfaction that over the past three years as ambassador, I have been able to help conclude what we began.

I took part in the meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in June 2010 when President Dmitry Medvedev visited Washington. It was there that Obama reaffirmed that the United States strongly supported Russias WTO bid. At the news conference after that meeting, Obama said WTO membership would be good for Russia, the United States and the world and called upon our negotiating teams to accelerate their work.

Guys, he told us later in private, we have to get this done.

Obama found it incomprehensible that a country the size and importance of Russia was outside the WTO. And he made it clear that it was his priority to work to resolve the outstanding bilateral problems with Russia, which meant, of course, that it was our priority, too. Obama and Medvedev established a deadline for that bilateral agreement Sept. 30, 2010, which at that time was only nine weeks away. This required Russia to draft and pass key pieces of legislation in a very short time. It also meant that we had to solve the always difficult problems surrounding U.S. meat and poultry exports to Russia. Through an incredible outburst of political will, and thanks to hours and hours of hard work by experts on both sides, most of the work was done by that deadline.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Aug. 21


Time is running out to see the fantastic creations on display at the 2014 Sand Castle Festival on the beach at the Peter and Paul Fortress. Adhering to the theme of Treasure Island, visitors can wander amongst larger-than-life interpretations of pirate life or attend one of the workshops held to educate a future generation of sand artists. The castles will remain on the beach until Aug. 31.



Friday, Aug. 22


Get ready to pledge allegiance to the flag during National Flag Day, paying tribute to when, 23 years ago today, the iconic hammer-and-sickle was replaced with the tricolor that now flutters in the wind. Petersburgers will be treated to a free concert on Palace Square, a military parade and a culminating air show featuring Russias Russian Knights stunt pilots.



Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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