Amid the political upheavals in Russia last December following the Duma elections, a much quieter and potentially more meaningful revolution took place: the World Trade Organization admitted the Russian Federation to membership. See: Russian Analytical Digest No. 111 (02 April 2012).
As someone who has traveled to Russia more than 120 times starting in 1972, I know that Russian business practices have changed dramatically, beginning with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, but really accelerating only after the turn of the century. And now, a new era of opportunity for Western businesses has opened up.
But what will WTO membership really mean for businesses seeking to penetrate one of the world’s fastest growing economies and largest untapped markets? There are several important changes coming:
¨ Russia will have to live by WTO rules and be subject to international arbitration
¨ Import duties are dropping - some dramatically: for medicines from 15% to 5%; for IT products from 5.4% to zero
¨ Rail freight rates will be the same for foreign and domestic customers - this is huge! - and the maximum customs clearance fees will drop from $3000 to $1000
But here’s the big news: foreigners can now own 100% of a retail or wholesale business, as opposed to minority ownership in a country with no independent court system.
Keeping in mind that court reform in particular will not occur overnight, businesses still need to tread carefully. But the prospects for success have just increased dramatically.
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