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Russian parliament debates historic WTO accession

Deputies are divided on entry into the global trade organisation; some say it will boost the country's productivity, others claim it will kill industry and create unemployment

AFP, Tuesday 10 Jul 2012
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Russia's parliament on Tuesday debated whether to ratify WTO membership, a historic move which the government says will boost productivity but the opposition claims will bear a heavy social toll.

A team of ministers faced the Russian Duma where the Communist deputies peppered them with questions of what World Trade Organization membership would mean for Russia's economy.

A final vote on approving the bill that will implant Russia firmly into the world economy could come later Tuesday. Despite opposition dissent it should be easily passed with the support of the ruling United Russia party.

Communist parliament members said that joining the WTO would flood the country with cheap imports, killing the remnants of Russia's Soviet-inherited industry and creating unemployment.

"What does Russia want from this besides satisfying the vanity of its current rulers?" said top Communist deputy Sergei Reshulsky, arguing that Russia would face a trade imbalance in almost every field as its economy was already hurt by capital flight and corruption.

"In essence, we have nothing to sell besides weapons and fertilizers," he said. "Why go to the WTO to play the role of a consumer?"

The Communist Party previously joined radical left movements to stage several protests against the WTO, and some activists held banners outside the Duma building in Moscow on Tuesday.

The accession is expected to be approved by the majority party United Russia. After the parliament approves the bill, President Vladimir Putin will have to sign it and it then becomes law within 30 days.

"There will not be any negative social consequences," Economic Development Minister Andrei Belousov countered, arguing that people will profit from the membership due to competitive prices.

"Until we take on responsibilities (of the WTO), we are not understandable to our trade partners. They don't know if we are planning to play cards or football," he said.

Cabinet members assured deputies that the government has worked out programmes to develop struggling industries, especially in the defence sector.

Russia's accession to the WTO was agreed by the organisation after a sometimes torturous saga that required 18 years of negotiations and was marked by frequent snags and mutual recriminations.

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