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Can the WTO Handle Russia?

This editorial published in the Financial Times doubts that the rule structures of the World Trade Organization would be able to contain Russia, which they say is likely to be “a permanent delinquent.”

Russia is being asked to change the habits of several lifetimes. The sprawling continent of a country has – since the reign of Peter the Great – had a capricious attitude towards western Europe, flitting between admiration and suspicion. In addition, it suffers from what Dmitry Medvedev, the president of Russia, has called a culture of “legal nihilism”.

This week, the Industrialists’ Round Table, an EU-Russia business organisation, attacked both of these facets of Russian life. They pressed for the Federation to provide legal certainty to business by joining the World Trade Organisation as quickly as is possible, submitting to its detailed rulebook.

They are right that Russia would benefit from the discipline of the WTO, which has levers for enforcing trade laws. There are, however, grounds to doubt to what degree it could restrain Russia to live by its strictures. It is likely that it would be a permanent delinquent. (…)

So long as energy prices remain buoyant, the Russian government will be flush with cash. From their perspective, reform can wait. But if they want a broader-based economy – and, crucially, if they want to make the country a safer, less nervous place to live and work – Russia must, in the words used by Mr Medvedev last year, understand “the necessity and desirability of observing the law”.