The World Trade Organization plans to resume discussions with Russia and China in the hopes of bringing both countries into the fold, the organization's top official said.
Renato Ruggiero, director general of the Geneva-based international trade association, said both countries could reach an agreement on joining the organization this year.
"I'm confident we will continue to make progress not just with Russia and China but with other important countries as well," he said.
U.S. banks have become leery of doing business in Russia since it decided unilaterally to stop repayments on foreign loans and securities. But they are still keen to develop business in China, especially local- currency lending, as well as securities and credit card-related activities.
Mr. Ruggiero's remarks came this week at a meeting of bankers hosted by the New York-based Institute of International Bankers, a lobbying association for foreign banks in the United States.
The World Trade Organization, which has 133 member countries, sets commonly agreed on international regulations for trade, including in financial services.
Analysts see a strong possibility that China will reach an agreement on joining the organization. But they said it is unlikely Russia will join anytime soon.
"The Chinese have been working toward joining, but the Russians are going to have to learn to play by the rules first," said Elizabeth Morrissey, a partner at Kleiman International Consultants, a Washington- based financial advisory firm.
"For him (Mr. Ruggiero) to say the Russians will join soon just after they announce they've defaulted on their debts is laughable," Ms. Morrissey said.
Apart from China, she said, the most likely membership candidates are Eastern European countries seeking to join the European Union and central Asian countries.
According to the organization's latest statistics, world banking assets totaled about $40 trillion in 1994 and foreign assets of deposit banks totaled $8.6 trillion.
Daily foreign exchange and stock market trading amounted to $10 trillion in 1995, and gross insurance premiums in developed countries exceeded $2 trillion.
A majority of the organization's member countries agreed in December 1997 to open their financial sectors to foreign competition by March of this year. Russia, China, and 28 other countries still outside the organization deny free access.
Mr. Ruggiero noted that despite the agreement, "many countries still lack the infrastructure needed to support a modern financial system."
Introducing adequate regulations, he added, is more necessary than ever before, because "both globalization and technology have changed the context of the way the financial system operates in ways that are often not understood."