Putin’s Rules on Trade

Last weekend Vladimir Putin attacked the World Trade Organization for being “archaic, nondemocratic and unwieldy.” As The Wall Street Journal pointed out yesterday, WTO director Pascal Lamy was quick to remind that these characteristics haven’t stopped Russia from attempting to join. The article continued:

Yet the biggest sticking point concerns Russia’s failure to fulfill promises it made in the deals it has already reached. For instance, the European Union wants Russia to end its practice of charging higher railway fees for foreign trains than for domestic ones and implement an agreement struck last November to phase out charges for foreign airlines flying over Siberia. The U.S. says Moscow still needs to strengthen intellectual-property rights and open its market to American beef as agreed in its bilateral deal.

In other words, the ball is very much in Russia’s court here. Mr. Putin has insisted repeatedly that the WTO should not ask Russia to join on “nonstandard conditions.” Asking Moscow to make good on its word seems standard enough.

As for Mr. Putin’s point about the importance of emerging economies, perhaps he’s forgotten that Brazil and India already are WTO members and are key players in the Doha talks on freeing up trade. The WTO counts a growing number of developing countries among its 150 members and provides the best forum for them to level the playing field with the rich world.

Then again, Mr. Putin is used to making his own rules these days, from pushing Europe around on energy to telling Washington how to run its missile-defense program. The WTO’s rules apply equally to everyone. Maybe that’s what he finds so “archaic.”