Russia clears final hurdle for WTO membership

Obama hailed Russia's membership into the WTO as another important step forward in "our reset of relations with Russia, which has been based upon the belief that the United States and Russia share many common interests, even as we disagree on some issues."

The White House has included Russia's accession as part of its broader trade agenda to increase U.S. exports and smooth relations between the two allies. 

"Russia’s dramatic step today towards joining the WTO underscores our ability to cooperate also on economic issues of mutual interest," he said. 

Russian trade officials said the nation was spurred to reach a hard-fought deal with Georgia over trade issues because of China’s economic performance since it joined the WTO in 2001.

“China’s accession really boosted trade and investment, and it was one of the factors that was taken into account in our decision making when we decided to join and to complete these negotiations,” Maxim Medvedkov, Russia’s trade negotiator, told Reuters. 

Talks over Russia's accession became more intense after Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met in Washington in June 2010 and was raised during discussions on Capitol Hill over the now-passed free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. 

"Russia’s membership in the WTO will lower tariffs, improve international access to Russia’s services markets, hold the Russian government accountable to a system of rules governing trade behavior, and provide the means to enforce those rules," Obama said. 

House Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and subcommittee on Trade ranking member Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said they planned to review the details of the final agreement with their colleagues after returning to Washington next week. 

"If done right, Russia’s WTO Membership has the potential to break down Russia’s trade barriers and to strengthen the rule of law and transparency so important for effective trade relations with Russia," they said in a joint statement. 

“Very importantly, it appears that Russia has committed to join the Information Technology Agreement when it becomes a Member of the WTO," they said. "This is a vital issue that we and other Members of Congress raised with the administration over the past several weeks and needed to be resolved.”

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) called the accession an important step for Russia's "integration into the global trading system."

"We will be reviewing the final agreement and Russia's implementation to ensure the result is a high-standard agreement that will provide the kind of job-creating economic boost our ranchers, farmers, workers, businesses and service providers need," they said in a statement. 

The news comes as Obama administration officials, including the president, along with top officials from nearly two dozen countries head to Honolulu for discussions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at the annual summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. 

"The Obama Administration has been a strong supporter and advocate of this process since President Obama took office and we have worked closely with Russia and other WTO Members to help move the process toward a successful conclusion," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement. 

"It will spur trade and support significant job growth in both countries as a result of lower tariffs and increased market access," he said. 

Russia also is opening its services market in sectors that are priorities to American companies, including audio-visual, telecommunications, financial services, computer and retail services, the White House said.  

Russia, which has been trying to join the trade organization since 1993, is the largest of the world's economies that isn't part of the 153-member WTO.

Benefits also apply to Russia’s other WTO trading partners, including Georgia.

Upon Russia’s accession, the United States will be able to use WTO mechanisms, including dispute settlement, to challenge Russia’s actions that are inconsistent with WTO rules, according to the White House. 

Obama also noted he wants to work with Congress to end the application of the Jackson-Vanik amendment to Russia — a 37-year-old provision crafted to put pressure on Communist nations for human-rights abuses and emigration policies, which has been "a symbol of lingering tensions in the U.S.-Russia relationship," according to the Council on Foreign Relations. 

Most experts argue that the amendment isn't relevant anymore.  

This story was updated at 5:45 p.m.