Russia and the WTO System: Law, Regionalism, and Politics

By Butler, William E. | The University of Memphis Law Review, April 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Russia and the WTO System: Law, Regionalism, and Politics


Butler, William E., The University of Memphis Law Review


I. Regionalism 600

II. The WTO and Russia 601

III. Integration of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tadzhikistan, and Russian Federation 607

IV. Commission of the Customs Union (Now the Eurasian Economic Commission) 608

V. Judicial Practice of Kazakhstan and Customs Integration 609

VI. Conclusions 613

[The text of a Public Lecture of same title delivered at the Law School of the University of Memphis on September 27, 2013]

On September 4, 2013, the website of the Kremlin in Moscow posted a brief statement declaring that during a meeting between the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, and the President of the Republic Armenia, Serge Sargsyan, Armenia had disclosed its decision to accede to a Customs Union originally formed by Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia rather than sign an association agreement with the European Union ("EU").1 The EU takes the view that a former Soviet republic, such as Armenia, must choose between Brussels and Moscow; being a member of the Customs Union and being associated with the EU simultane*

ously is, in the view of Brussels, not an option because members of the Customs Union have "effectively ceded sovereignty over trade issues to Russia."2 Such a cession, if correct, would ultimately preclude integration into the EU as members, which is the ultimate aim of an associate relationship.

The Armenian decision was another step in a new "Great Game."3 Other former Soviet republics-Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan-faced a similar European choice. The "Game" at the moment is taking the form of new constellations of "regionalism," a measure of restoration of Russian influence in areas traditionally an integral part of the Russian Empire or the "Eastern partnership" of the EU. The last is seen either as a group of countries associated with the EU, in some formal fashion, or integrated into the EU, by virtue of full membership at some unspecified future date.

Between these alternatives in Eastern Europe exist a number of relationships for the countries concerned: the Commonwealth of Independent States ("CIS"), its predecessors, and some related satellite organizations; the World Trade Organization ("WTO"); the Eurasian Economic Community; and the Union State (Belarus and Russia).4 These are among the principal pillars of regional diplomacy, primarily economic diplomacy (as opposed to military alliances), engaged for the countries concerned.

I. Regionalism

Each of the foregoing examples is, arguably, an example of political and economic "regionalism," leaving us with the question of what constitutes a "region." Presumably, a definition of "region" is partly a matter of scale and partly a matter of perceived commonalities of interest and/or propinquity. For legal purposes, something of planetary scale may be regarded as tantamount to "universal" (unless one views our planet Earth as a tiny "region" of the solar system). The term obviously has geographical overtones if we were to conceive of a region as something geophysical. But what of legal abstractions: are "families of legal systems" each a "region" for analytical purposes? Is it appropriate to speak of a "region" of Civil Law and Common Law systems? What of Islamic legal systems-do they comprise a region? If so, what kind of region-theological, ideological, geographical?

What of the deep seabed, characterized in the 1983 Law of the Sea Convention as the "Area." Although a geophysical phenomenon, it also has a special legal regime. Many seas and oceans have an "Area," so that whereas the Area is a geophysical domain, it is not necessarily a cohesive domain all joined together in a single submerged territorial mass. As a legal domain, however, it shares a common legal regime irrespective of where located on our planet-a legal "region"?

Then, there is the WTO, which has 159 out of 194 (or 196, counting Abkhazia and South Osetia) potential members. Do we in effect have two regions: members and non-members? …

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