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Ukraine joins WTO, forcing economic reforms and opening new trade channels

May 16 2008

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) - Ukraine became the 152nd country to join the World Trade Organization on Friday after 14 years of negotiations, getting in ahead of bigger neighbor Russia and committing the former Soviet republic to economic reforms and opening new trade channels.

Experts expect new economic ties to boost chiefly agricultural, chemical and metals exports.

A membership protocol ratified by parliament last month officially came into effect Friday, according to a statement from President Viktor Yushchenko's office.

Over the 14 years of accession negotiations, Ukraine implemented a range of economic reforms and amended more than 50 laws to bring the country into line with WTO norms. Membership obliges Kyiv to further reforms.

Russia, its main trade partner, is the only major economy yet to join. Ukraine will have veto power over Russian accession but may be eager to see Moscow bound by the same trade rules amid political tension.

Many believe Russia's inclusion in the trade club would be beneficial to Ukraine because it would prevent Moscow from applying tariffs that are against WTO rules.

Key Ukrainian exports to Russia include spirits, oil, sugar and various raw materials.

Yushchenko has promised that Ukraine would not unfairly use its new position inside the WTO to damage Russia's 15-year accession bid.

"I would warn of an aggravation of relations" if Ukraine were to block Russia's entry, said Kostantyn Kuznetsov, an economic analyst at the Kiev-based Razumkov think tank. "That would be "wrong ... and a way that leads nowhere."

Ukraine was formally invited to join the global trading community on Feb. 5.

Kyiv Post