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Russia court rules WTO membership agreement constitutional

Russia's Constitutional Court [official website, in Russian] on Monday ruled that the World Trade Organization (WTO) [official website] accession package protocol [WTO materials] for membership does not offend the Russian Constitution. The court's unanimous decision quashed the challenge brought by a group of 131 opposition lawmakers [RIA Novosti report] from the Just Russia [party website] and Communist [party website, in Russian] parties, who had claimed a breach in procedure when the accession protocol was submitted to the lower house of parliament for ratification. Russia signed the accession protocol on December 16 and needs to complete the ratification process by July 23. Russia's Fundamental Law Article 125 authorizes the Constitutional Court to rule on the constitutionality of international treaties that have yet to come into force. The court's ruling may not be appealed, and a final parliamentary vote is expected this week. Under the terms of the agreement Russia will gradually cut average import tariffs [Reuters report] from 10 percent to 7.8 percent, while opening up telecommunications markets and other investment sectors. The WTO has 155 member states, with Russia currently representing the largest non-member economy at USD 1.6 trillion.

The WTO is an organization which aims to promote the liberalization of international trade and about 95 percent of world trade takes place within the WTO framework. Last month Kambiz Behi of Mostafavi & Associates and Edsel Tupaz [corporate profile] of Tupaz & Associates argued that the admittance of the Russian Federation into the WTO will create stronger economic relations [JURIST comment] with the US, as Russian WTO membership would free the US Congress to continue pursuing efforts to promote human rights and the rule of law independent trade relations with Russia, which would be established under WTO regulations. Just last month, for example, Congress approved a bill to sanction Russian officials [JURIST report] who were linked to the death of a Russian lawyer. In April Anna Heatherington, an LLM candidate at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, analyzed the barriers to Russia's WTO membership [JURIST comment], noting that within the Russian Federation opposition to WTO membership exists primarily in the non-energy sectors, and especially from the agricultural sector, which is largely unprepared to compete in a global market. An additional point of concern has been Russia's inability to fully protect intellectual property (IP) rights, as most IP legislation is relatively new and the Russian courts lack experience and competency in IP areas.

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