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Russia's WTO bid passes final legislative hurdle

MOSCOW--The Russian upper house of parliament on Wednesday passed the bill ratifying Russia's entry into the WTO, the final legislative step required before President Vladimir Putin signs it into law.

The Federation Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), bringing Russia to the verge of finally joining the organization after 18 years of often acrimonious negotiations.

The upper house approved the bill with 144 votes in favor and three votes against and no abstentions, following its passing by the State Duma lower house last week. The accession will become Russian law 30 days after Putin signs the measure.

Economists have long argued that Russia needed to join the WTO as it was the only major global economy outside the body — following China's membership in 2001 — and the government hopes accession will stimulate growth.

But the membership has also been controversial, with some medium-sized firms expressing concern that they will be put out of business by being unable to compete against imports made cheaper by a reduction in customs tariffs.

The reduction of customs tariffs is a key condition for Russia's WTO membership and will fall from a current average level of 9.5 percent to 7.4 percent in 2013, 6.9 percent in 2014 and 6 percent in 2015.

The head of the foreign affairs committee at the Federation Council, Mikhail Margelov, said Russia's entry to become the 156th member of the WTO was a necessary step.

“The world is globalizing and achieving economic success from a position of complete isolation is hardly going to be possible,” he told the ITAR-TASS news agency.

According to the World Bank, WTO entry is worth 3.3 percent of Russian GDP — or US$49 billion — in the first three years after entry. Over 10 years, the gain will be worth 11 percent of GDP, it says.

Putin in June 2009 set the whole accession project off the rails by suggesting Russia should join in a single customs bloc with its partners Belarus and Kazakhstan but the idea was then quietly shelved.

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