By Tom Miles
GENEVA (Reuters) - Russia put more protectionist policies in place than any other country in 2013, closely followed by neighboring Belarus, according to data from Global Trade Alert (GTA), a leading independent trade monitoring service.
Russia alone accounted for 20 percent of the protectionist policies identified worldwide by GTA, with steps ranging from cuts in foreign worker quotas to state support for the rare earth metals industry, agriculture and aircraft makers.
With 78 such trade restrictions, Russia also accounted for almost a third of the protectionism imposed by G20 nations.
Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan have linked their trade policies in a single customs union, an emerging trading block that was jointly responsible for 33 percent of worldwide trade protectionism during the year, GTA data shows.
President Vladimir Putin is trying to persuade Ukraine to join Russia's customs union also and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich's pivot towards Moscow and away from closer trade ties with the European Union has sparked huge protests.
"The customs union was responsible for 15 times as many protectionist measures as China while having only an eighth of the population," said GTA's coordinator Simon Evenett, a professor at the Swiss Institute for International Economics.
"Russia's policy of economic restructuring is nothing more than a potent mix of rampant subsidization and aggressive protectionism. With this record Russia isn't a poster child for the WTO (World Trade Organization) accession process."
Russia joined the WTO in August 2012 while Kazakhstan is at an advanced stage of negotiating its own membership. Belarus is also negotiating but at a much earlier stage.
Although the WTO also monitors protectionism, GTA casts the net wider and covers policies that fall outside the scope of WTO rules, which were drawn up two decades ago and do not cover many newer forms of protectionism.
Global trade growth has slowed to a near standstill during the economic crisis that began in 2008. Pascal Lamy, who stepped down as head of the WTO at the end of August, said this year that governments were turning to protectionism because they had failed to achieve economic growth with other policies.
"It looks like 2013 will confirm the surge in protectionism seen in 2012. No amount of wishful thinking can hide the fact that there is little restraint built into the system," GTA's Evenett said.
GTA data also showed that Brazil, India, Japan and the EU together accounted for a quarter of world protectionism.
(Editing by Louise Ireland)