Fists Fly as Ukraine Parliament Debates WTO Entry

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's liberal government pressed on with legislation needed for the country to join the World Trade Organisation on Wednesday, in a parliamentary debate that saw occasional fist fights between deputies.

With lawmakers heckling and sounding sirens and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko gesturing to allies on how to vote, the government managed to push through three out of 14 free market laws despite resistance from the opposition communists.

In Geneva, key members of the WTO said Ukraine still faced many barriers before its decade-old application could be accepted.

Parliament approved laws on intellectual property rights, audits and car imports. Several laws aimed at liberalising the agricultural market and the insurance and banking sectors were passed after a first reading.

President Viktor Yushchenko has called for redoubled efforts to meet all the requirements for admission by the end of 2005.

Yushchenko, propelled to power after "Orange Revolution" protests last year, sees WTO entry and securing international status as a market economy as the first steps of a long-term plan to join the European Union.

Communists oppose the WTO drive, saying it will hurt local producers and take away the jobs of thousands of workers.

For a second straight day, a mixture of communists and other government opponents milled about the speaker's rostrum, sometimes trading punches with adversaries.


Tymoshenko, Yushchenko's radical ally in last year's protests, looked on calmly, occasionally gesturing to government loyalists to indicate whether to support or reject the proposals.

Deputy Prime Minister Oleh Rybachuk said the law on intellectual property was a critical part of the package the government hopes to get approved before the chamber goes into recess at the end of the week.

"Had we failed to approve the law, Ukraine's road to the WTO would have been closed for sure," he told reporters after 261 deputies in the 450-seat parliament backed the bill to toughen regulations on the production and sale of CDs.

The bill should also help end four-year-old U.S. sanctions on the ex-Soviet state.

Ukraine is keen to get its admission cleared for final approval at a WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December.

In Geneva, trade sources at a meeting of the working party studying the application quoted its chairman, Canadian trade diplomat Sergio Marchi, as saying that the December target was "not written in stone".

A U.S. delegate told the meeting the fact that some of the bills under discussion had been rejected by parliament many times "still has the potential to complicate the process".

The European Union sought clarification on existing trade laws, including government investment in export industries, rail transport fees, health regulations and barriers to trade.

Australia said it wanted a discussion on Ukrainian agricultural policies involving all interested farm produce-exporting nations in the WTO on the fringes of the next formal working party meeting on September 13.

Source: Reuters