The State Duma [official website, in Russian], the lower house of the Russian parliament, on Tuesday ratified the World Trade Organization (WTO) [official website] accession package protocol [WTO materials], clearing the way for Russia's membership in the global trading system. Despite stiff opposition, the ruling United Russia [official website, in Russian] party garnered enough votes to approve the WTO membership agreement by a 30-vote majority. Opponents from the Just Russia [party website] and Communist [party website, in Russian] parties, which lost a challenge to the accession protocol [JURIST report] in Russia's Constitutional Court [official website, in Russian] on Monday, voted against the WTO agreement and staged demonstrations outside the Duma. Russia signed the accession protocol on December 16 and needs to complete the ratification process by July 23. Under the terms of the agreement Russia will gradually cut average import tariffs [Reuters report] from 9.5 percent to 6 percent by 2015, 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 country will gain WTO membership 30 days after ratification of the accession protocol.
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.