Russia's 17-year quest for accession to the World Trade Organization should be successfully concluded by the end of the year, Swiss mediators say.
Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey, who is mediating a dispute between Russia and Georgia over the former's bid to join the WTO, appeared with Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev Sunday in Moscow and said she's encouraged negotiations will soon lead to a breakthrough, RIA Novosti reported.
"I hope that today's talks will be successful and … Russia will join the WTO (by) the end of the year," Calmy-Rey said.
"We would also like it," Medvedev added.
Calmy-Rey's visit to Russia came on the heels of last week's offer by Georgia to drop its objections to Russia's WTO accession as part of a compromise crafted by Swiss mediators.
Under the proposed deal, international trade observers posted around the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia would represent neutral international contractors rather than government entities.
That has been a sticking point because while Russia has formally recognized two ethnic enclaves as sovereign nations, no other government has. Georgia and Russia fought a brief war over the regions in 2008 and Moscow has repeatedly warned it wouldn't accept a deal that compromises their status as independent states.
Giga Bokeria, secretary of Georgia's National Security Council, told The New York Times the compromise would place third-party observers on both the Russian and Georgian sides of the border to monitor cargo flow through Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Russia has yet to accept the Georgian offer, but Medvedev's comments Sunday put a positive light on the possibility.
Pressure has mounted from the United States and the European Union for Russia to gain membership in the 153-member WTO by the end of the year. After 17 years of negotiations, it remains the only major global economy outside of the global trade-governing group.
The World Bank has estimated Russia could increase its annual gross domestic product as much as 11 percent over the long term as a WTO member, although the bank has also warned the country's uncompetitive industries might suffer, the Times reported.
"We are pleased that Russia and Georgia are close to reach an agreement that, we believe, will be very useful for both sides," Philip Dimitrov, head of the EU Mission in Georgia, said in a statement. "We express our full support to the efforts of Switzerland, thanks to which a positive resolution of the issue appeared."
Russia's chief WTO negotiator Maxim Medvedkov said talks over the plan would continue this week after informal consultations began Wednesday in Geneva, RIA Novosti reported.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council counterpart Herman Van Rompuy have urged attendees at the upcoming Group of 20 finance ministers meeting in Cannes, France, to "send a strong message to the WTO December Ministerial to finalize Russia's WTO accession by the end of this year."
If the Dec. 15-17 ministerial conference approves procedural documents on Russia's WTO accession, Moscow would become a full member of the world trade club 30 days after ratification, the Russian news agency said.