RUSSIA TELLS IMF IT WANTS TO RAISE TARIFFS SELECTIVELY \ MOSCOW SEES MOVE AS EFFORT TO SPUR TRADE

RUSSIA TELLS IMF IT WANTS TO RAISE TARIFFS SELECTIVELY \ MOSCOW SEES MOVE AS EFFORT TO SPUR TRADE

Russia's Trade Ministry has told the World Trade Organization it wants to raise tariff ceilings on imports that have already achieved high market penetration.

The Russians dismiss IMF objections to this proposal.Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officials described the thrust of Russia's detailed tariff proposals, put on the table in Geneva recently, as an effort to stimulate market competition.

''We are not going to close the market,'' said one of the officials who recently discussed the tariff plan with the WTO. ''We want competition. But we can't afford the destructive effects of imports on certain domestic industries, particularly in agricultural products.''

At present, Russia's trade weighted tariff average is 14 percent, which officials concede is ''higher than many industrialized countries.'' Last month, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Michel Camdessus, called for an across-the-board lowering of these tariffs. WTO. officials have claimed that unless this is agreed, Russia's accession will be delayed.

The IMF demand has been rejected publicly by First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, a reformer usually open to IMF policies. Officials say they understand the IMF has not made lower tariff demands in negotiating economic support financing for Thailand, South Korea, or Indonesia.

Accordingly, they believe Mr. Camdessus' demand is a pitch for market access for the powerful food exporters represented on the IMF board, especially the United States and the European Union member states.

''You should look at market penetration in Russia, not at tariff levels,'' says a trade official who declined to be quoted by name. ''Our market has been wide open, and 50 percent import penetration ratios aren't uncommon in the food sector. This is not acceptable in most countries, so it can't be in Russia either.''

The IMF Moscow representative refused to comment.