After 18 years, Russia moved closer to full membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week when a WTO Working Party report was approved at the trade organization's ministerial meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, according to a report from the National Pork Producers Council.

The World Trade Organization ended its biennial ministerial conference on Saturday with its chairman citing an improved atmosphere in the 153-member club.

Russia, a potentially large market for U.S. pork products, is the world’s largest economy that is not a member of the WTO. Although Russia was a lucrative market for U.S. pork in 2010, with exports totaling more than $200 million, U.S. pork sales have fallen nearly 60 percent since 2008. The decline is due largely to a number of unscientific sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) restrictions.

Russia has used its sanitary restrictions as a justification to delist U.S. pork plants from being eligible to ship products to Russia. Currently, U.S. plants representing 60 percent of U.S. pork production capacity are banned from exporting pork to Russia. The Russian restrictions are not supported by science or valid risk assessments, according to a letter sent by a coalition of U.S. Senators to the U.S. Trade Representative.

NPPC is working closely with the Obama administration to remedy the SPS problems before Congress determines whether to extend Permanent Normal Trade Relations to Russia.

WTO chairman Olusegun Olutoyin Aganga said constructive dialogue between ministers over the three-day meeting had improved the atmosphere and outlook for the WTO, according to a Reuters report. "It is essential that we do not let this improved political mood dissipate. I believe the contacts among ministers here have created a promising basis for renewing the political dimension of the WTO in a lasting way," he said.

There were some successes in the meeting: Russia, Samoa, Vanuatu and Montenegro were brought into the group and a last-minute deal to seal a landmark reform of government procurement rules was agreed upon.

Meanwhile, no concrete moves were made on the Doha round of world trade talks. Little was expected from the meeting on Doha, a deadlocked negotiation that has caused a crisis of confidence in the global trade body.

Source: NPPC, Reuters