Russian Nears Deal to Join WTO

After more than a decade of trying, Russia is on the verge of joining the World Trade Organization. The U.S. says it is likely to lift its objections and sign a deal with Russia next week. Russia is the largest country not currently in the WTO.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The country that once sealed its economy off from the rest of the world is taking another step toward integration. Looks like Russia will finally join the World Trade Organization. After more than a decade of negotiations, the United States says it is likely to lift its objections and sign a deal with Russia next week. Here's NPR's Adam Davidson.

ADAM DAVIDSON: Russia is the largest country not in the WTO, and this has been an embarrassment to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who has sought to position Russia as a major world power. WTO membership also provides real economic benefits, many say. The 149 member countries give each other preferential treatment on trade.

Since Russia is not a member, other countries can arbitrarily raise tariffs on Russian imports or just cut Russia off completely from trade.

The U.S. is the only WTO member that has not yet agreed to let Russia join. The primary objection is that Russia has said it will block U.S. beef and pork exports. But today the Russian and U.S. governments have announced that presidents Putin and Bush will sign an agreement next week at an Asian summit. U.S. objection to Russia's WTO membership has soured relations between the two countries. The two presidents had hoped to resolve the issue long ago, but negotiators just couldn't reach an agreement. It's not yet clear what led to today's dramatic breakthrough.

Adam Davidson, NPR news.

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