Glimmer of hope exists for Latvian WTO membership

  • 1998-07-23
RIGA (LETA) – The decision on Latvia's admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) could come in September or October this year, Minister of Foreign Affairs Valdis Birkavs told journalists today.
Birkavs said, at last week's WTO General Council session in Geneva, that the United States presented new proposals for world trade in audiovisual products, which differ significantly from its earlier position. As LETA reported previously, Latvia's membership application remains hostage to a dispute between the US and European Union (EU) over liberalization of audiovisual markets.
The European Commission expressed its dissatisfaction with the protracted delay in considering Latvia's admission to the WTO, but called the change in the American position promising.
Latvia also received words of support from Norway, Australia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Japan, and Jamaica, while the US expresed hope that the new proposals would soon help resolve the issues still blocking Latvia's membership in the multilateral body.
The final outcome and timeline of the process remains in question, however, since the American position is a compromise between the interests of large commercially-oriented cultural industries and official government policy. At the signing of the U.S.-Baltic Partnership Charter in January President Bill Clinton, flanked by the his three Baltic counterparts, announced that Latvia would definitely join the WTO in 1998.
The WTO General Council session began consideration of the new American proposals, but due to lack of time, postponed further review until the next General Council session . Birkavs believes yesterday's session marks a positive turning point in the resolution of the EU-US dispute, but said he harbors no hope until an incontrovertible statement is made regarding Latvia's membership in the WTO.