Russia officially acceded to the multilateral trade system on December 17, 2011 at the ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WT0) held in Geneva, Switzerland, after 18 years of talks. Russia’s accession takes place as China celebrated the 10th anniversary of its joining the WTO, which took place in December 11, 2001, after 15 years of arduous negotiations.
Therefore, all the so-called BRICS’ countries are at long last now members of the multilateral trade system, Brazil and India having joined at its inception with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), in 1947, and the Republic of South Africa after the democratization of the country in 1994.
The unusually long negotiations that kept China and Russia alienated from the WTO for so many years have political motivations. In the first place, non-members can be discriminated at will by protectionist forces, as the equitable principle of the most favored nation clause does not apply to them.
Secondly, and even more importantly, such major absent players as China and Russia, both permanent members of the United Nations’ Security Council, could not influence trade policies designed by the US and its allies to promote the selective prosperity of a few to the detriment of the many countries.
China’s accession marked a major shift in the decision major process at the WTO towards developing countries, which should have been the major beneficiaries of the system, as not its victims, as History has amply demonstrated. Accordingly, the Doha round of trade talks, formulated with a view to promoting the interests of the US and allies, took a new perspective.
China is now the world’s largest exporter of goods and the second largest importer. China’s imports and exports upon its accession to the WTO in 2001 was US$ 510 billion, which grew to US$ 3 trillion in 2010. In addition, China became an important trade partner to the vast majority of developing nations. For instance, China became Brazil’s top trade partner in 2008, position it has maintained since. The open Chinese markets offer multiple opportunities for exports from developing countries.
Russia’s accession to the WTO was unduly delayed by political restrictions, but represents a gain for the multilateral system, which becomes less discriminating and more democratic, for the Russian economy, which will be able to compete more fairly in the international arena, and for the Russian people, which will benefit from the process of more access to foreign markets.
Developing countries will also gain, both politically, because of the greater weight of the aligned interests of Russia in political negotiations, and economically, because of greater bilateral trade activities. Russia’s external trade in goods in 2010 was approximately US$ 650 billion. This volume will now increase substantially in the next few years.
Russia’s accession to the WTO is very much welcome by developing countries as the time to reform substantially the rules of the multilateral trade system has arrived.