Global trade ministers yesterday approved Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization - a victory for prime minister Vladimir V Putin at time when he is facing opposition at home.
The Nigerian trade minister, Olusegun Olutoyin Aganga, struck a gavel clearing the way for Russia's entry into the WTO. The organisation operates by consensus and Russia had to first conclude bilateral agreements with 57 of its current 153 members to secure their support.
''This result of long and complex negotiation is favourable both for Russia and for all our future partners,'' president Dmitri A Medvedev said in a statement read to the conference by the first deputy prime minister, Igor I Shuvalov. He urged world leaders to continue to strive for freer and fairer trade, adding, ''Russia is ready to contribute as much as possible into this work.''
With the development the anomaly of a leading producer and exporter of oil and natural gas and permanent member of the UN Security Council being outside the trade system comes to an end. Russia with a population of 140 million is the last major world economy to join the WTO and its membership would see over 97 per cent of all world trade take place among member countries.
According to Pascal Lamy, the WTO director general, the agreement would ''cement the integration of Russia into the world economy'' and that it ''affixes the WTO quality label to the Russian Federation.
Analysts say Putin could cite the membership of the trade body as a sign that Russia was taking a bigger role on the global stage, even as discontent rises against his government in Russia's large cities. During an interview, Andrei A Slepnev, the Russian official under whose oversight Russia gained membership, credited Putin and Medvedev for getting the deal done. He also noted that Putin had referred to the membership, on Thursday as ''a victory for Russia.''