Georgia to Russia on WTO: Take it or leave it
The Georgian government accepted a Swiss proposal this morning that would pave the way for Georgia to sign off on Russia’s membership in the World Trade Organization. But will the Russians take the deal? "We told the Russians that we accept this proposal and we told them this is the moment of truth," Sergi Kapanadze, ...
The Georgian government accepted a Swiss proposal this morning that would pave the way for Georgia to sign off on Russia’s membership in the World Trade Organization. But will the Russians take the deal?
"We told the Russians that we accept this proposal and we told them this is the moment of truth," Sergi Kapanadze, Georgia’s deputy foreign minister and the lead Georgian negotiator, told The Cable in a phone interview from Switzerland on Thursday.
He said the proposal was Georgia’s final offer and, if Russia wants to proceed with its WTO accession on schedule, it will have to accept the Swiss terms.
"It’s quite obvious the text cannot change. We have exhausted the creativity, this addresses the red lines of both sides," Kapanadze said.
Without Georgian agreement, Russia can’t join the WTO, which has always admitted members based on the unanimous consensus of existing members. The talks had been stymied due to a disagreement over how the flow of goods between Russia and Georgia would be monitored, and how any disputes over monitoring between the two countries would be adjudicated. The deal does not address the political status of the disputed territories of Abkhasia and South Ossetia.
The latest Swiss proposal — the one the Georgians have accepted — represents a compromise on both points. It stipulates that monitoring on the Russia-Georgia border would be done by a private company chosen by either the Swiss or the EU. The Russians had wanted to choose the company, while the Georgians had wanted the monitoring to be done by an international organization, not a private firm. Right now, only Russian personnel monitor the borders.
Any disputes over the customs monitoring would go to third-party arbitration, according to the Swiss deal. The Russians had wanted disputes to go to a process of non-binding "conciliation." The Georgians had wanted disputes to be adjudicated within the WTO, a body they trust. The arbitration scheme is a compromise between those positions, Georgia’s National Security Adviser Giga Bokeria told The Cable in an interview from Tbilisi.
"All the major principles are there, it’s up to the Russians to say yes," Bokeria said. "They haven’t said yes, they haven’t said no."
The Russian embassy did not respond to requests for comment. Maxim Medvedkov, Russia’s chief negotiator, told Bloomberg News today that Russia will need "several days to give an answer."
Georgia had been set to play the spoiler to Russia’s long-held ambition to join the WTO. Russian forces still occupy the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Russia has failed to live up the agreements that concluded the 2008 Russia-Georgia war by removing its forces from Georgia territory.
But Georgia was pressured from outside sources, such as the European Union, to make a deal. The Obama administration has maintained that it would not pressure Georgia to accept Russia into the WTO, but the matter was discussed during Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns‘ visit to Georgia last week.
Sam Charap, director for the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for American Progress, said the deal is potentially workable because it doesn’t favor either side’s position on the political status of the disputed territories, and allows for enforcement of trade rules that will open up the Russian market to Georgian goods.
"It’s a big step forward. It seems like a pretty status-neutral outcome," Charap said. "At the end of the day everyone, including Georgia, benefits from Russia being in the WTO."
He also noted that by announcing the deal publicly, the Georgians are effectively turning the screws on Russia to take the deal.
"It does certainly put the pressure on the Russians, and they look like they are being obstinate now if they don’t accept what’s on the table," said Charap.
The Atlantic Council’s Executive Vice President Damon Wilson, who recently released a report on Georgia’s integration with the West, said that the Russians could have easily solved the dispute but set initially terms that were unfair to Georgia.
"This whole issue didn’t have to become so politicized," Wilson said. "If Russia really wanted to get into WTO without humiliating Georgia in the process, they could have made a deal quietly and a long time ago."
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
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