Georgia OKs Swiss plan in WTO talks with Russia

By the Associated Press | October 27, 2011 | 11:00 AM EDT

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Georgia said Thursday it has accepted a Swiss proposal that could open the way for Russia to join the World Trade Organization.

Russia needs to reach individual agreements with all 153 members of the WTO, and the lack of progress in negotiations with Georgia has been the last remaining stumbling block. Georgia lost a brief war with Russia in 2008 over the control of two breakaway regions, leading to a breakdown in diplomatic relations with Moscow.

Georgia said it accepted a Swiss proposal providing guarantees of international supervision of all trade and cargo between Russia and the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"From now on, from Georgian perspective, the Russian Federation can become a member of the WTO provided that it also agrees to the proposal," the Georgian government said in a statement.

There was no immediate reaction from Russia.

Russia, which hasn't responded to the Swiss proposal, is by far the largest economy still outside the international trade body despite 18 years of talks. Both The European Union and the United States have voiced hope that Moscow could join the WTO by the year's end.

Georgia demanded in the past that Moscow allows Georgian customs officials to operate in two breakaway provinces. Russia, which recognized the two regions as independent states and strengthened its military presence there, flatly rejected the Georgian push.

The Swiss compromise proposal tries to solve the impasse by offering to deploy international monitors at border checkpoints in the two separatist provinces.

"We accepted the Swiss offer and hope that Russia will also approve it," Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergo Kapanadze said in a telephone interview from Geneva.