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Last Updated: Monday, 3 July 2006, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
Europe seeks Russian trade deal
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso
Mr Barroso wants EU members to let Brussels lead talks with Russia
The European Union wants a free-trade deal with Russia once the country joins the World Trade Organization, the European Commission president has said.

Jose Manuel Barroso said the Commission was proposing that EU member states give Brussels the mandate to negotiate with the Russian government.

The EU wants to tie Russia to free trade to open up its energy sector.

Mr Barroso's call comes as Russia continues talks to join the WTO, which Moscow aims to complete this year.

Gas concerns

At present Europe has expressed concern at the lack of competition within the energy industry in Russia, most notably the continuing monopoly of state-run Russian gas firm Gazprom.

Gazprom raised concern in Western Europe last winter when it cut supplies to Ukraine in a dispute over the amount Kiev paid for its gas.

The move caused a knock-on reduction in Russian gas supplies going through Ukraine to Western Europe.

While Mr Barroso said it was too early to discuss the content or timing of any free trade deal with Russia, EU trade spokesman Peter Power said it would include removing non-tariff trade barriers and a comprehensive energy agreement.

The opening up of the Russian energy sector will also be discussed at next month's meeting of the Group of Eight leading industrialised countries, which by coincidence is being held in St Petersburg.

Resistance

However, it remains to be seen how much, if any, ground Moscow will give way on energy.

It has repeatedly said it will not ratify a European Union proposed Energy Charter treaty that would force it to open its oil and gas pipelines to third-party traffic and allow greater competition in energy.

In addition to the Group of Eight meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been invited to attend an informal EU meeting in Finland in October.

A month later Mr Putin returns to Finland for an official EU-Russia summit.

Both events are being held in Finland as the country currently holds the presidency of the EU.


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