The Guardian (UK) / Reuters
By Dmitry Zhdannikov
June 7, 2009
ST PETERSBURG, Russia, June 7 (Reuters) – Russia, pursuing membership of the World Trade Organisation, should steer clear of backing a "grain OPEC" which could distort global trade, a senior U.S. agriculture official said on Sunday. Russia, the world’s No. 3 wheat exporter, could damage its bid to join the WTO by backing a global body to regulate grain trade, said Michael Michener, administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s foreign agricultural service.
"I think this Russian idea does look like a cartel. It does seem like OPEC … and frankly that is something against the WTO," Michener said at the World Grain Forum in St Petersburg.
"We would even say to Russia: be cautious about it. If it is done in a way that is trade distortive and trade prohibitive, I think it would affect Russia’s application to the WTO."
Russia, the world’s second-largest oil exporter, is not a member of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). But it has previously suggested that global grain trade could benefit from an international trade group.
Michener said, however, that enthusiasm for the idea had faltered as Russia accelerates its bid to join the 153-member WTO after a decade of trying. Some officials have said it could reach this objective by the end of the year.
"This is their year for WTO essentially," said Michener, adding Russian talk of a grains cartel had subsided. "They are really backing off right now."
Asked if Russia could continue promoting the idea of a grains OPEC were it to join the WTO this or next year, he said: "If they try, they will wind up in litigation in Geneva." (Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by David Holmes)