U.S. Helps Nudge Ukraine To WTO Membership

KIEV, Ukraine -- The United States has given Ukraine a boost in its quest to become a World Trade Organization member, a senior U.S. official said Friday, handing a shred of good news to President Viktor Yushchenko's pro-Western government even as the country's economy falters.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk (L), and Deputy U.S. Commerce Secretary David Sampson are seen as they talk to media in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 17, 2006.

Deputy U.S. Commerce Secretary David Sampson said that as of Feb. 1, the U.S. has designated Ukraine as a market economy. "We are pleased to announce that Ukraine has been granted market status as a result of economic, legal and institutional reforms," he told reporters.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said the designation would benefit Ukrainian companies, potentially protecting them from any antidumping sanctions in the future.

He also said he hoped it would increase Ukraine's credit rating, giving it access to lower borrowing costs and encouraging foreign investment.

Being recognized as a market economy by the United States will also help Ukraine in its bid for World Trade Organization membership.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko had pledged that the ex-Soviet republic would join the WTO last year, but the government repeatedly failed to win support among lawmakers for changes to the country's laws.

"While there is no direct link between receiving market economy status and entering the WTO, this is evidence that Ukraine is moving closer to that goal," Tarasyuk said.

The European Union also declared Ukraine a free market economy in December, making it easier for the former Soviet republic to trade with the 25-nation bloc.

Yushchenko said the U.S. decision showed "the world that (it) recognized changes in Ukraine and the irreversibility of the reforms that were launched."

Since Yushchenko came to office last year, the economy has slumped with the government lowering its GDP forecast three times. The economy has become a campaign issue in the run-up to crucial March parliamentary elections.

Source: AP