LOS ANGELES — It took nearly 20 years of negotiations, but Russia finally was welcomed into the World Trade Organization on Wednesday.

LOS ANGELES — It took nearly 20 years of negotiations, but Russia finally was welcomed into the World Trade Organization on Wednesday.

The largest economy outside the WTO until now, Russia will become the international trade group's 156th member. The U.S. joined in 1995, China in late 2001. The last member to be accepted was Montenegro in April.

Vanuatu, a small island nation in the Pacific, followed Russia as the 157th WTO member.

"Both accessions show that joining the WTO remains high on the countries' agendas since trade can bring a predictable and stable basis for economic growth," WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said in a statement. "This is especially important as the world goes through troubled times and continues to suffer from one of the worst global economic crises in memory."

Russia first applied for membership in 1993. Success now means that President Vladimir Putin, just starting a new term, will likely hold greater sway in international economic dealings.

Membership is expected to bring better trade access and more foreign investment to the country's roughly $2 trillion economy. Russia's new stature could result in an additional $162 billion in annual economic output, the World Bank estimated this spring, helping to boost incomes by as much as 25 percent for Russian households.

WTO members are responsible for some 97 percent of global trade, according to the World Bank.