Moscow - Russia's parliament is expected to ratify on Tuesday an agreement to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in a move that will push Moscow to open up its economy.
Russia, the largest economy outside the global trade organisation, has spent 18 years trying to negotiate its entry into the body. Now that the talks are over, the Russian government, which has strongly advocated the entry, is facing criticism from many businesses and opposition politicians that the WTO membership would hurt domestic producers by flooding the market with cheaper imports.
Activists including several dozen Communist Party deputies staged a protest outside the State Duma (lower house of the Russian parliament) on Tuesday morning to protest Russia's accession, which is considered a done deal since the Duma is controlled by President Vladimir Putin's party.
"The WTO is death to Russia!” one of the posters held by a protester.
Thousands of Russian businesses are wary that the low import duties and caps on subsidies that are a condition of joining the WTO will hurt their businesses. The government, however, insists that the WTO rules will help weed out inefficient players from the market and make Russian companies and their products more competitive abroad.
Russia's Economic Development Minister Andrei Belousov sought to play down those fears in a debate with lawmakers on Tuesday.
He said that the government would still be able to prop up agriculture and machinery companies with subsidies and businesses would have five to seven years before Russia cuts down duties and subsidies to WTO-assigned levels.
"Who would want to invest in a country which wouldn't play by international rules?" Belousov said at the Duma hearing. "The WTO is a guarantee that Russian business will have the same rules to go by at home and abroad."
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