WTO to weigh in on EU-Russia spat over imports

The World Trade Organization will appoint experts to examine a European Union complaint against Russia over allegations its state-run companies disadvantage imports from the bloc, a Geneva-based trade official said Monday.

The decision was reached during a meeting of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body meeting Monday, the source said.

Brussels first launched the dispute last July, and after consultations between the two sides failed, it called last month for a WTO panel of experts to weigh in.

Moscow blocked that first request, but according to WTO rules, second requests are basically granted automatically.

Brussels charges that Russia has developed measures that seriously disadvantage EU companies when selling goods and services to Russian state-related enterprises and other entities through commercial procurement, in what it says is a violation of international trade rules.

The EU has said a lot of business is at stake, pointing out that Russian state-owned enterprises issued tenders amounting to around 290 billion euros in 2019, equivalent to around a fifth of Russia's gross domestic product.

Russia said it regretted the EU's decision to request the panel, insisting that its measures were in compliance with its WTO obligations.

The two sides now have 20 days to agree on which experts should sit on the panel. If they fail to do so, the task will be left to WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

It can take several years for WTO panels to render their decisions.

Appealing those decisions have been complicated since late 2019, when the WTO Appellate Body, sometimes called the supreme court of world trade, ground to a halt after years of relentless US opposition.