After 18 years of negotiations, Russia appears to have cleared the final hurdles in its effort to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Russia is the world’s largest economy not to have membership in the WTO, so its accession represents the most significant addition to the WTO since China joined about a decade ago.

As U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Senior Vice President Thad Lively explains in this audio report, Russia is expected to be officially invited to join the WTO in mid-December. But the accession process will actually stretch well into 2012, as Russia’s government addresses the legislative changes necessary for finalizing its WTO membership.

Lively adds that U.S. 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. But he says membership in the WTO should force Russia to be more consistent and transparent in the manner in which it trades with the United States, and that the WTO provides an important venue for addressing trade disputes.

Russia is an important growth market for both U.S. pork and beef. Through September, U.S. pork exports (including variety meat) to Russia are up 22 percent in value to more than $183 million, making it this year’s sixth largest value market for U.S. pork. Beef exports are up 67 percent in value to nearly $196 million, giving Russia the No. 5 ranking in terms of export value.