Ukraine Parliament Ratifies WTO Membership Agreement In Key Vote

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's parliament on Thursday gave its approval to entering the World Trade Organization, giving a decisive victory to reform politicians in the former Soviet republic.

Ukrainian Parliament building

The national legislature the Verhovna Rada in a rare show of agreement between its pro-Europe and pro-Russia factions, voted 411 in favour of the measure, out of 449 legislators present.

The only opponents of WTO membership was the minority Communist party and a few left-wing independents, who abstained from casting ballots.

The vote was a dramatic success for the thin pro-Europe majority currently in control of Ukraine's government, which for months had failed to push approval of the WTO through the legislature, in the face of the pro-Russia opposition.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, the leader of the pro-Europe faction, had repeatedly promised he would sign the bill into law as soon as parliament approved it.

Ukraine began the application process to join the WTO in 1992. The WTO formally offered Ukraine membership in February.

The Thursday Ukrainian parliament vote thus removed the last practical barrier to Ukrainian membership in the WTO, a top goal of the Yushchenko administration since coming to power in 2005.

The terms of the agreement just approved by parliament stipulate Ukraine will become a full-fledged WTO member within one month of Yushchenko's signing the WTO bill into Ukrainian law.

WTO officials had said that they were confident the WTO governing board would give final approval to Ukrainian membership no later than July 4, provided Ukraine's parliament approved the treaty and Yushchenko signed off on the legislation.

Ukraine will pay the WTO some 420 million dollars in annual membership fees, the Interfax news agency reported.

Ukrainian membership in the WTO is widely expected to expand access to international markets for Ukrainian industrial producers, but the degree of probable expansion is disputed by economists in the country.

Ukraine's economy is heavily dependant on export, particularly of metals, chemicals, machinery, and agricultural products. Many of its retail markets are protected by tariff barriers which, once Ukrainian WTO membership becomes a reality, must be removed from the books.

Some observers have questioned whether WTO membership would increase Ukrainian exports substantially, as the most valuable potential market still practically closed to Ukrainian products - Europe - will remain inaccessible in the near future due to European Union excise barriers.

But Ukrainian pro-government spokesmen have argued WTO membership will make retail goods substantially cheaper in Ukraine due to increased domestic competition - a critically-needed development given the country's current 17.3 per cent annual inflation.

Trade implications aside, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry has long been keen on WTO membership as any WTO member may veto a new applicant: an ability Kiev diplomats hope would give leverage against Russia, a WTO non-member targeting Ukraine for repeated energy price hikes in recent years, because of worsening relations between Kiev and Moscow.

Source: DPA

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