DENVER – Russia appears to have cleared the final hurdles in its effort to join the World Trade Organization after 18 long years of negotiations. As the world’s largest economy not to have membership in the WTO, Russia’s accession represents the most significant addition to the WTO since China joined approximately 10 years ago, according to the US Meat Export Federation.

In mid-December, Russia is expected to be officially invited to join the WTO, said Thad Lively, USMEF senior vice president. But the accession process is expected to go well into 2012, as its government addresses the legislative changes necessary for finalizing its WTO membership.

Despite WTO membership, US pork and beef exports will still face significant obstacles in the Russian market, including a quota system that regulates imports through the imposition of steep tariffs beyond a designated volume, Lively said. But WTO membership should force Russia to be more consistent and transparent in how it trades with the US, and that the WTO provides an important venue for addressing trade disputes, he added.

Russia is a significant growth market for US pork and beef. US pork exports (including variety meat) to Russia through September are up 22 percent in value to more than $183 million, making it this year’s sixth-largest value market for US pork. Beef exports are up 67 percent in export value to nearly $196 million, giving Russia the fifth ranking in terms of export value.