BRUSSELS - EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht on Wednesday hailed Russia’s World Trade Organization entry as a major boost for the recession-threatened European economy.

“Today’s WTO accession is a major step for Russia’s further integration into the world economy,” De Gucht said in a statement as Moscow crowned a tortuous 18-year campaign and finally joined the world’s premier free-trade club.

De Gucht said that the accession of Russia and its $2.0-trillion economy (1.6 trillion euros) to the Geneva-based trade policing body “will facilitate investment and trade, help to accelerate the modernisation of the Russian economy and offer plenty of business opportunities for both Russian and European companies.” De Gucht said: “I trust that Russia will meet the international trading rules and standards to which it has committed.”The European Union is Russia’s first trading partner and Russia the EU’s third.

In 2011, EU imports from Russia totalled 199.5 billion euros, a large proportion being cars or auto parts and medicines, and Russian imports from the EU reached 108.4 billion euros, the bulk of which was oil and gas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed on July 21 the final accession document approved by all WTO countries.

Russia will now finish bringing down trade barriers to levels agreed in the negotiations while gaining broader access to foreign markets.