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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: Russia’s 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, Russia’s 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 Russia’s 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

Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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