GENEVA — The U.S., European Union and other key trading partners urged Russia in a World Trade Organization review forum to abandon the drift toward protectionist trade policies and renew the pursuit of market-liberalizing reforms.
Since Russia joined the WTO in 2012 it has become “a well-established and collaborative member,” said Michael Punke, U.S. ambassador to the WTO, who also was critical of recent changes in Russian trade policies.
“We have been been disappointed to see Russia turning away from the core tenets of of the WTO — liberal trade, transparency, predictability — in favor of inward-looking import substitution economic policies.”
During a two-day review session of Russia’s trade policies, the first since it joined the global body, that ended Friday, Punke questioned Russia’s enforcement and protection of intellectual property rights.
“Russia continues to inadequately enforce its own laws, ” he said.
Similarly, the European Union delegation to the WTO said it regrets Russia “has so far not made the best use of the opportunities afforded by its membership, including transforming its economy and advancing on its objectives of modernization and innovation.”
Maxim Medvedkov, Russia’s deputy trade minister, said external shocks, such as the threefold drop in hydrocarbon prices and sanctions imposed by the U.S. and EU over the annexation of Crimea in 2014, had adversely impacted the economy.
The International Monetary Fund has said the Russian economy is on a “stabilization course” and forecast the economy will contract by 1.8 percent in 2016 and expand by 0.8 percent next year, notes a report compiled by the WTO secretariat for the review session.
However, Medvedkov said the growth rate is expected to reach “0.8 percent in 2017, 1.8 percent in 2018 and 2.2 percent in 2019.”
Import substitution policies ushered in have focused on agricultural products and strategic industrial sectors such as civil aircraft and pharmaceuticals.
Asked if apparel imports have been hit by tit-for-tat counter sanctions by Russia, Medvedkov said the sector has not been affected.
However, he said the sharp drop in the national currency, the ruble, “absolutely” had affected apparel import shipments.
Russia is the world’s 10th largest apparel import market with shipments valued at over $5.6 billion last year and accounted for a 3.1 percent share of total goods imports.