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Russia Clears Remaining Hurdles to Join WTO

(CN) - Russia cleared the last hurdle to joining the World Trade Organization, with Georgia removing its objections on Thursday.

Last week, the federation had reached an agreement with the European Union to maintain automotive manufacturing jobs in the continent if it joined the trade body.

"We have struck a deal on the final outstanding bilateral issues, leaving the way open for Russia to join the WTO by the end of this year," EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said in a statement. "This understanding will help to protect EU jobs in the car and car components' industry from moving to Russia."

Russia had wanted to give reduced import duties and other trade benefits to foreign car producers who build production plants in Russia and met local content requirements. But the EU had objected to this plan.

In addition to the agreement on automobile manufacturing, Russia agreed to amend its wood export quotas and to reduce charges that EU airlines face for flights over Siberia. Russians may also now import vegetables from the EU.

Russia has been busy concluding bilateral agreements with WTO members to secure their support for its ascension to the agency, including an agreement signed earlier this month with United States.

Under the WTO convention, any of its 153 members can veto admission of a new country. The last hurdle in the way of Russia's WTO membership was the Republic of Georgia.

The objection stemmed from a border dispute over two breakaway Georgian territories that erupted in a 2008 with a short war. Russia still supports the independence of Abkhasia and South Ossetia. Georgia has said that it would approve Russia's membership if Russia would support international monitoring of trade in the breakaway regions.

On Thursday, Georgia announced that it had accepted a Swiss plan guaranteeing international trade supervision between Russia and those regions.

Russia is the biggest economy outside the WTO, and the EU is by far its biggest trading partner accounting for just over 48 percent of exports in 2010. The EU estimates its member states are responsible for 75 percent of foreign direct investment in Russia.

The issue of Russian membership comes before the 8th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Geneva, Switzerland, on Dec. 15.

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