Russian accession to the WTO was a big success for the EU that opens the way for further EU–Russia trade liberalisation.
The EU’s objective is to create a common economic space based on a free-trade area with Russia. For years, EU–Russia trade liberalisation has been held back because Russia is not a member of the WTO. For example, without WTO membership, Russia could not sign a free-trade agreement with the EU, which has been on offer for several years. Russia’s WTO accession was complicated by Russia’s protectionist lobbies and Russian-Georgian disagreements on how to ensure proper border controls around the conflict zones of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia’s creation of a customs union of Kazakhstan and Belarus has also complicated Russia’s WTO accession and EU–Russia trade liberalisation.
In 2011, after 18 years of negotiations, Russia finalised accession talks with the WTO member states – a major success for the EU. Russia finally joined the WTO in December. This will also open the way for further trade liberalisation between Russia and the EU, which could be enshrined in the New Enhanced Agreement (NEA) currently being negotiated. Throughout the year, the EU was quite united in supporting Russia’s WTO accession and holding the perspective of a free-trade regime open to Russia. In the spring, the EU and Russia finally settled most of their differences on Russia’s WTO accession. The EU also played a strong diplomatic role in persuading both Russia and Georgia to agree on a compromise that opened the way for Russian accession to the WTO. But although the EU has achieved its long-term objective of seeing Russia enter the WTO, the success of further EU–Russia trade liberalisation will depend on how fast the EU and Russia can agree to liberalise their own bilateral trade.