GENEVA (AP) — Russia cleared a major hurdle toward opening up its huge oil-driven economy Thursday, with negotiators agreeing to final terms that would allow it to join the World Trade Organization after an 18-year effort.
The deal is expected to quickly inject 4 billion euros ($5.45 billion) a year into the ailing European economy by boosting European Union exports.
The 27-nation bloc is Russia's biggest trading partner for its agriculture, fuels, mining and manufacturing. EU nations imported €158.6 billion ($216 billion) worth of goods — mostly oil and gas — from Russia last year, while exporting some €86.1 billion ($117 billion) worth of machinery, automobiles and farm products.
Under the deal, Russians would be able to buy European-made cars and trucks, furniture, clothes and all sorts of consumers goods and industrial machinery at far lower prices than before.
For their part, Russia would be able to sell its oil and gas more efficiently — and its steel industry would no longer be subject to Europe's quotas imposed on some non-WTO members.
The EU buys 52 percent of Russia's exports, including the fossil fuels that power the continent. And the third-biggest customer for EU exports is Russia, after the U.S. and China. Nearly two-fifths of goods imported by Russia come from the EU.
"That means, by definition, all aspects of market access. It's about a 5 percent increase in European exports, just because of WTO accession," Peter Balas, the European Commission's deputy director-general for trade, told The Associated Press. "In these difficult economic times, it's a substantive, positive effort."
Until now, Russia has been the only member of the Group of 20 leading economies still outside the WTO. A panel of WTO negotiators put their stamp of approval Thursday on a package of terms for Russian membership that is expected to be signed by trade ministers at a WTO high-level meeting in mid-December.
Once that is approved, Russia would become a WTO member 30 days after it notifies WTO that it has ratified membership — presumably early next year.
Maxim Medvedkov, Russia's chief WTO negotiator, said joining the world trade body is important because his nation — as the world's 7th largest exporter — already does 92 percent of its trade with WTO members.
"Our nation has plans for modernization of its economy based on foreign investment," he told reporters. "We do not feel any aggressive 'no' to (joining WTO) in the business community."