GENEVA — Russia has offered to cut tariffs on a range of industrial goods, including textiles, apparel and furniture, to try and advance its 10-year effort to join the World Trade Organization.

Maxim Medvedkov, Russia’s deputy trade minister and chief WTO negotiator, said in an interview last week that Moscow has offered to lower tariffs on key industrial goods by as much as half.

The cuts could prove a boon to U.S. or European companies seeking to boost their share of the growing Russian market, he said. Russia in 2002 imported $3.8 billion worth of apparel, compared with $678 million in 1995, according to WTO estimates. Textile imports that year were $1.4 billion, up from $691 million in 1995.

“[Russia] is a big market for high-quality stuff…it’s also a big market for U.S. subsidiaries with operations in developing countries, such as Levi Strauss,” Medvedkov said

Russia is offering to cut its apparel duties to 17.5 percent, from their existing range of 20 to 25 percent. On so-called made-ups, partly assembled goods, the country is offering to reduce tariffs to 12.5 percent from levels that now reach 20 percent. Fabric tolls would be capped at 10 percent — they now range from 10 to 15 percent — while the rate for raw materials including cotton, silk and wool would be 5 percent, down from the range of 5 to 10 percent.

Medvedkov suggested Russia can’t afford to drop its apparel duties too low, given its proximity to a major competitor.

“The U.S. doesn’t have a 4,000-kilometer border with China, but Russia does,” he said.

Russia’s trade with the rest of the world has been growing. Its exports of all products — including crude oil and other commodities — rose 26 percent last year to $135.2 billion, while imports increased 24 percent to $74.5 billion.

The proposed cuts are part of the package Russia is offering in its market-access talks, which are a necessary step toward WTO admission. In May, Russia completed a bilateral entry deal with the European Union, its largest trading partner.

Moscow agreed to reduce its average tariff for industrial goods to 7.6 percent from 18 percent, said EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy. Russia has yet to reach entry deals with the U.S., Canada, Japan and other key trading nations.

This story first appeared in the July 19, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Last year, the U.S. exported $2.4 billion worth of merchandise to Russia, a 2.2 percent rise from 2002, according to U.S. government data.