BRUSSELS—Georgia offered Russia new conditions on accepting its bid to join the World Trade Organization, Sergi Kapanadze, the Georgian deputy minister of foreign affairs, said Wednesday.

"We think, we hope we will be able to proceed" with Russian accession to the 153-nation body, Mr. Kapanadze said in a phone interview from Geneva, where he is leading his country's delegation in meetings with Russian diplomats. "We are now in the endgame of this."

Russia, which has been negotiating to join the WTO for 18 years, has now settled virtually all of its issues with key trading partners such as the U.S. and the European Union, leaving only Georgia's opposition in the way.

The nation of 4.6 million, which lost a war in 2008 over the pro-Russia enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, possesses a rare piece of leverage: It can veto Russia's accession, because joining the WTO requires the unanimous consent of its members.

And so far, Georgia has been threatening to use its veto power.

The clock is ticking, as a vote is scheduled at a summit of WTO trade ministers in Geneva on Dec. 15. And talks in Geneva, mediated by Swiss trade officials, have frequently been suspended and restarted.

The new compromise proposed by Mr. Kapanadze involves setting up a neutral monitor to oversee commerce of goods involving the two enclaves.

"The essence of the proposal is international monitoring," he said. Mr. Kapanadze declined to discuss further details, but said, "The ball is in the Russian court." Since Russia has settled its outstanding issues with the U.S. and EU, the West's interest in the Russia-Georgia talks has become "more intensive," Mr. Kapanadze said.

Gunnar Wiegand, a senior EU diplomat, visited Tbilisi this week for talks with Georgia. He didn't, however, make any threats or offers of deals, as had been previously reported, Mr. Kapanadze said. Russian officials weren't available to comment.

Both EU and U.S. officials say they want Russia inside the WTO—whose members pledge to lower tariffs and trade barriers—to eliminate the headaches that currently characterize trade with Russia.

October 27, 2011

Source: Wall Street Journal