Japan and Russia have moved closer to completing bilateral negotiations on Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization, sources said Friday.

The two governments are likely to sign an agreement during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan, expected to take place around the middle of this year, the sources said.

The accord would lend support to Moscow’s efforts to enter the Geneva-based global trade watchdog by 2006 and is expected to be a major achievement for Putin.

Russia’s admission to the WTO would be beneficial to Japan because it would encourage Moscow to further open its market to foreign competition, they said.

The biggest stumbling block to bilateral talks on Russia’s WTO entry was whether Moscow would reduce its high tariffs on automobiles. But Russia has agreed to gradually lower the tariffs in line with Tokyo’s request.

Moscow concluded protracted bilateral negotiations on its accession to the WTO with the European Union in May, followed by the completion of talks with China and South Korea.

Japan and the United States are the two remaining major countries with which Russia has not yet reached agreements on the issue.

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