Ukraine’s internal struggle for WTO membership and its possible consequences

The Ukrainian economy depends on the export of steel, chemical products and food; these three branches are the main engines of Ukrainian economic development. On the other hand, the country depends on the importation of Russian gas and oil.

The general tendency of the world market is that the prices of steel, chemical products and agricultural produce go down, when the prices of energy raw materials goes up.

Such a tendency can (and does) create unfavourable conditions for Ukrainian trade. Further, Kyiv, while not being a member of the World Trade Organisation, remains helpless if confronted with anti-dumping procedures regarding those three main export products of the country; there is not much
it can do.

Therefore, there is no other way to protect Ukraine's economic interests, in its relations with the EU and the US than to join the WTO.

Still the situation is not that simple. It has two other dimensions:

1. Time is not waiting for Ukrainians to make the indispensable decisions;
2. Moscow is competing with Kyiv on its way to the WTO.

The country that will win, and will become a WTO member earlier than its competitor, will be able to impose the terms of trade to the less lucky or rather less clever neighbour.

If Russia wins, Ukraine, which depends on its northern neighbor’s gas and oil, will be put in an extremely difficult situation. This is why time matters and why Ukrainians should do their best to be first in that race. They should; the question is: Will they?

The debate regarding the legislative bills packet which was supposed to enable Ukraine to join WTO, took on a life of its own in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s Supreme Council) at the beginning of this last July.

The packet consisted of 14 projects; during a early three day session, a bill concerning criminal responsibility for pirated production and sale of CDs was passed as well as a number of other projects that were adopted during the first reading.

After that, the Parliament became paralysed. The “opposition” began blocking and breaking up the debate. Rada sessions were disrupted by deputies from the Ukrainian Social-Democratic Party and the Party of the Regions (led by Moscow’s supported Viktor Yanukovych – Yushchenko’s rival in the last year presidential election).

Deputies of both parties forced their way in rostrum and surrounded the Speaker of the Parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn. An ominous atmosphere of disturbances, whistles, struggles and brawls accompanied the event.

According to the “opposition”, the government (Rada) extracted from Verkhovna Rada the approval of “laws” that are not properly prepared and unfavourable for Ukrainian business and the Ukrainian people.

In addition, the EU and the US were accused of forcing Ukraine to accept Western genetically-modified food protected with preservatives of unknown composition and unknown ingredients allegedly harmful to the health of Ukrainian citizens.

The government was accused of pushing the bills in question through in order to please Washington and Brussels. Speaker Volodymyr Lytwyn assessed the situation in Parliament as a sign of a serious crisis of authority.

The opposition also used both juridical and constitutional arguments to block the debate. Before the proceedings, both parties that contested the WTO bills’ packet declared that they were going to support the act, only if the MPs who had been nominated to the governmental posts, gave up their parliamentary mandates.

This applied to 20 people who worked in the Government of Yulia Tymoshenko and at the same time were deputies to the Ukrainian Parliament (in reality, they had simply not yet given up their “mandaty”).

The struggle eventually involved the head of the state himself. The bills were strongly promoted by the Ukrainian President, Viktor Yushchenko, in as much as joining WTO was treated by him as the pre-condition to creating a free trade zone with the European Union, which, in turn, was perceived as the first step to the EU membership.

The interests of the country (Ukraine) and the political interests of the Yushchenko camp were identical in that situation.

Entering WTO, which was indispensable for Ukraine to protect its foreign trade, was simultaneously extremely desirable for Orange Revolution camp, which had proclaimed its pro-European and pro-Western orientation and which was striving for success in Ukraine’s quest to accomplish such a direction.

The success had to be achieved before March 2006, when the parliamentary elections were scheduled to be held in Ukraine. The achievement had to be large enough to be effectively presented to the public opinion in order to win its support in an electoral struggle.

There were few other things besides accession to WTO membership, and the awaited recognition of Ukraine by the EU and the US as a market economy which was linked to it, that would have fitted that scenario in a better way.

Yushchenko delivered a speech to the Rada trying to convince the body that the WTO bills packet were good for Ukraine and would contribute to its development. Indeed, he stressed that it was only a small part of what ultimately had to be done.

During his speech, deputies continued to protest against any further voting, and Volodymyr Lytvyn was not allowed to continue the proceedings. He announced a break. The rebellious members of the Parliament were not done; they destroyed his microphone.

The session was postponed. Yushchenko, as an enticement, ordered those government officials who will not resign from their parliamentarian seats dismissed; it proved to be of no avail.

The struggle has gone on and is still in place today. Formally, the arguments of the “opposition” MPs are serious and are well motivated, involving either their “noble care for the health of their compatriots” or “their profound devotion to the rule of law”.

The way in which they demonstrate their respect to the law is an unconvincing one; still, all the excesses can be explained away with justifiable emotions, inspired by the cause they have defended.

All this enables them to walk on the “path of glory” of “patriots who protect the dignity and the interests of Ukraine and its citizens”.

BUT.... In 1717, the Parliament of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth, surrounded by the Russian regiments, accepted, in silence, a Russian protectorate over Poland.

From that time on, the armchair of the Russian Ambassador stood in the chamber of the Parliament and Polish MPs, whether terrorised or corrupted, received their instructions from the Petersburg court thru the occupant of the said item.

Nonetheless, during the Russian-Turkish war of 1787-1792, while Russian forces were engaged against the Ottoman Empire, Poles were handed a unique opportunity to get rid of the Russian domination.

A Great Parliament (a National Assembly) was convened to reform the country. The first task that needed to be implemented was the creation of the army strong enough to defend the Commonwealth against renewed possible Russian interference.

Time was crucial; it was, indeed, of essence. Who would be first - the Poles with their army or the Russians with their victory over Turkey?

The MPs who were paid by the Petersburg court could not defend Russian interests openly. They were really dark souled characters, but they were not stupid.

They started a debate concerning the Russian Ambassador’s armchair (ie - whether to remove it from the Chamber to demonstrate the newly regained suzerainty of the Parliament OR to ignore it so as not to irritate Russia as well as to gain more time to raise an army).

It is easy to guess that the MPs from the pro-Russian Party were “the best patriots” in that struggle, radically demanding the removal of the armchair.

For a year, the Parliament kept talking, time passed by, Russian armies kept fighting (and winning against) the Turks and the decision of the Polish Sejm on the taxation indispensable for rising up new troops kept getting postponed.

The very next year, Russia invaded Poland, and three years later the country was erased from the map of Europe for 123 years.

Ukrainian MPs can (and should) draw the conclusions from that history. Patriots are not always those who speak loudly about their patriotism or even demonstrate it in a radical, if symbolic, way, but are those who always act in the interest of their country.

he Verkhovna Rada should decide what is more important: Ukraine’s membership in the WTO or the details of the ingredients in Western food imported into Ukrainian market, various procedural games in the Parliament and the pedestrian struggles of the upcoming elections.
ESSAY: By Dr. P. Zurawski vel Grajewski
European Institute at Lodz University

As an afterthought to his presentation at the Roundtable UA Quest Roundtable VI where he was keynote speaker on Polish Ukrainian Relations
Published by The Action Ukraine Report

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