KIEV, Oct. 17 â€“ Parliament, led by the Regions Party and its two small leftist allies, the Communists and Socialists, voted on Tuesday to postpone for two weeks debate over bills needed for Ukraineâ€™s accession to the World Trade Organization.
The development casts doubt on prospects for Ukraine to meet a year-end deadline for joining the trade body and marks a serious setback for President Viktor Yushchenkoâ€™s pro-Western foreign policy.
Concerned about the failure to approve the bills, Yushchenko met Parliament Speaker Oleksandr Moroz on Tuesday to urge timely action on the legislation.
â€śThe president expressed his concerns about the situation,â€ť Yushchenkoâ€™s press service reported. â€ś[The president] stressed he will use his constitutional powers to make sure all required procedures are implemented.â€ť
The postponement of the bills comes days after Moroz completed a visit to Moscow for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials, seeking to revive economic and political cooperation between the two countries.
Russia has long urged Ukraine to postpone the accession to the WTO so that both countries, which have massive trade between each other, join the body at the same time.
Russiaâ€™s accession to the WTO has slowed over the past 12 months, mostly due to opposition from the United States, on the grounds that Moscow has refused to open up its banking and energy sectors.
Moscow apparently fears that should Kiev be first to join the WTO, it would obtain power to issue additional trade demands against Russia, in particular in the energy sector.
Meanwhile, Yushchenko has been urging Ukraineâ€™s fast accession to the WTO, which could open the door for a free-trade agreement between Ukraine and the European Union.
Analysts said that joining the WTO would help Ukraine boost foreign investments by 50% and increase exports by 10% each year, helping the country to boost economic growth by an extra 1.9 percentage points annually.
Parliament was originally scheduled to debate 21 WTO bills on Oct. 18, but the debate is now postponed until Nov. 1.
A source in the government said Ukraine was supposed to report pn the progress it had made in approving WTO legislation at a special meeting with a working group in Geneva at the end of October.
A slim chance remains to join the WTO if Ukraine approves the legislation before mid-November, the source said, adding the issue depends on the political will of the government. (jp/ez)