'Final proposal' in Russia's WTO talks with Georgia

'Final proposal' in Russia's WTO talks with Georgia

TBILISI - Agence France Press

Swiss mediators in talks between foes Russia and Georgia aimed at overcoming one of the last barriers to Moscow's WTO membership tabled their "final proposal" on Thursday, a Georgian official said.

"The Swiss made a final proposal which is acceptable for Georgia. If Russia agrees, it will become a WTO member," Georgia's chief negotiator at the ongoing talks in Switzerland, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergi Kapanadze, told AFP.

"The mediators believe that this is really a final option," he said.

Tbilisi has been demanding international monitoring of cross-border trade in the Russian-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which were recognised as independent states by Moscow after the Georgia-Russia war in 2008 but are regarded by most of the world as parts of Georgian territory.

Ex-Soviet Georgia's conditions for agreeing to allow its powerful neighbour to join the WTO have threatened to derail Russia's efforts to finally become a member.

As a WTO member, Georgia has the right to veto any new entrant and Tbilisi has been keen to use one of its few levers of international influence amid its continuing disputes with Moscow.

Moscow has so far dismissed Tbilisi's conditions and has suggested that it could bypass any Georgian veto if a vote on Russian membership was held among WTO members.

Some media reports have suggested that Georgia's Western partners have been putting pressure on Tbilisi to enable Russia to join quickly, but a senior Georgian official denied this.

"At no stage, no partner of Georgia -- either the US or the EU -- has pressured or suggested to us that the longstanding WTO rule of consensus will be broken and Georgia will be sidestepped through a vote," the head of Georgia's National Security Council Giga Bokeria told AFP.

Russia, which opened negotiations to join in 1993, is the largest economy in the world to remain outside the WTO and has long expressed frustration with delays in its accession bid.