Lithuania firm on its interests in joining WTO

  • 1998-11-05
GENEVA/VILNIUS (BNS) - High profile officials say Lithuania is just a step away from joining the World Trade Organization, but it will not give up its interests to be accepted.

Foreign Affairs Minister Algirdas Saudargas announced that Lithuania would soon catch up with Latvia, which was accepted to the organization Oct. 14. Saudargas said Lithuania is a little behind its northern Baltic neighbor because of the "firmness" of Lithuanian negotiators.

In his TV interview, the minister said Latvia achieved membership quicker because it made more concessions. Lithuania is making fewer concessions, so it will become a WTO member a bit later but under better conditions.

Foreign Vice Minister Algimantas Rimkunas, who is the main Lithuanian negotiator for WTO membership, agreed with Saudargas.

"Latvia really did make great concessions in some areas of agriculture, for example, committing itself not to apply export subsidies, and for this reason the issue was crossed off the negotiation agenda," Rimkunas told BNS.

Rimkunas is participating this week in Geneva in bilateral and multilateral negotiations on Lithuanian membership of the WTO.

On Nov.2, Lithuania signed a protocol on concluding negotiations with Poland. Poland was the second country after Japan to acknowledge that trade conditions granted to Lithuania are satisfactory, thus agreeing to Lithuanian membership in the WTO.

Negotiations with New Zealand and Australian representatives will take place Nov. 5. Last Wednesday, Oct. 28, the Lithuanian diplomat participated in two bilateral talks with the United States and Canada.

According to Rimkunas, Lithuania's partners in negotiations expressed concern about the new customs regime, but they understood it was an essential measure to protect the state's interests from the consequences of the Russian financial crisis.

In mid October, Lithuania increased customs for "the most sensitive" agricultural products Ñ meat, meat products, milk, oil, sugar, grains and grain products.

"Of course, countries expressed concern with this increase in customs and said that it was inappropriate that a government, joining the WTO, is increasing its customs duties. But we believe that we will land within free limits in negotiations over customs on agricultural products," Rimkunas said.

He said it had been agreed upon in principle that in December in Geneva a multilateral session between Lithuania and other interested countries on agricultural issues would be held, at which Lithuanian officials will attempt to continue to seek progress in coordinating state support export subsidies.

"We hold to the position that export subsidies are necessary for Lithuania, and this is testified by the financial crisis in Russia because exports to that market have bogged down," Rimkunas said.

Rimkunas said that Lithuania is trying not to politicize negotiations on WTO membership, but to base itself on "rational and economically weighty assessments."