RIGA - EU officials have promised to challenge Russia over the latter's system of discriminatory railway tariffs during the two sides' upcoming round of WTO-related talks in Moscow. For years Russia has adhered to a system of duo-tariffs for domestic producers in order to discourage exports via the Baltic states and encourage shipments through Russia's own ports.
Baiba Sejane, an aide to Girts Valdis Kristovskis, a member of European Parliament, said that Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson would take up the issue with Russian trade officials during this week's meeting in the Russian capital.
Sejane said the trade committee of European Parliament on March 21 discussed the EU's draft statement on EU-Russian economic relations, during which Kristovskis, a member of Latvia's nationalist For Fatherland and Freedom, underscored Russia's discriminatory tariffs on its railroads.
On some goods such as metal and oil products, Russia has imposed tariffs on exports via the Baltics that are two times higher than to ports in St. Petersburg, Primorsk or Novorossiisk.
Sejane said committee members decried the duo-tariff policy as more evidence why Russia was still unprepared for World Trade Organization membership.
Russia is the last large nation that remains outside the WTO, which was created in 1995 to regulate international trade in place of the post-war Bretton Woods agreement.
By inviting Russia, which has a $1 trillion economy, on board, 99 percent of world trade would come under the WTO umbrella.
But many groups and countries object to Russia's membership. U.S. businesses object to massive abuse of intellectual rights in Russia, while Poland is angered by Moscow's refusal to allow imports of Polish meat and dairy products. Smaller nations such as Georgia are angered by the giant nation's bullying practices in the economic sphere.
Finally, the United States in November gave its approval to Russian membership in the WTO, which was considered to be the last great hurdle for Moscow.
The European Commission's ambassador to Russia, Marc Franco, recently said Brussels needed to see more of a commitment from Russia.
"We have heard a lot from our Russian partners that joining the WTO is a priority, but the way the negotiations are going and poor fulfillment of bilateral commitments raise doubts over whether Russia will become a member by the end of 2007," he told Kommersant, a Russian daily, earlier this month.
Other bones of contention with Russia include a high tariff on timber exports to Finland and licensing for foreign alcoholic beverage imports. Russia, Franco said, has failed to back up its commitments to a 2004 trade deal with the EU.
"Their execution is taking a lot of time, although we think that fulfilling some of them should be quite simple," he said. "We hope that, in the final analysis, Russia fulfills its commitments in time."
Russia's trade minister, German Gref, has stated that Russia has met its commitments but was unsure whether membership would become a reality by the end of this year.