Business groups keep up pressure to pass Russia trade bill
July 26, 2012
Business groups are optimistic that Congress can clear legislation to normalize trade relations with Russia by next week, but intend to keep up the pressure until it's done.
The Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that repealing Jackson-Vanik and extending permanent normal trade relations to Moscow would provide a boost to the sagging economy.
The bill is feeding off the momentum from the Senate Finance Committee, which unanimously approved a measure last week that combines the repeal language with the human-rights legislation that would punish Russian officials involved in the death of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in prison after reporting government corruption.
Bill Miller, senior vice president of government affairs of BRT, called last week's 24-0 vote "unprecedented" and is hoping that the House Ways and Means Committee will approve its bipartisan bill on Thursday and send it to the floor early next week.
"It looks like we are very close to getting Russia PNTR done," Milller told reporters.
Passage in the House would give the Senate a chance to clear the bill for President Obama's signature before Russia joins the World Trade Organization on Aug. 22.
He said the issue has been derailed too many times in the past and that it will hurt U.S. businesses if it is pushed off until September or the lame-duck session that is expected after the election.
"We can actually get something done for U.S. companies that want to do business in the ninth-largest economy in the world," he said.
Business groups agree that without PNTR, U.S. firms are increasingly disadvantaged going forward.
David Thomas, vice president for trade, BRT, said inaction would be like sending a team to the Olympics but standing on the sidelines while the other countries participate.
"We find ourselves within striking distance and our campaign continues to get final action next week," he said.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the U.S.-Russia Business Council on Tuesday that failing to pass a measure "could jeopardize well-paying jobs here at home."
Overall, BRT officials said they are confident there are the votes in the House and Senate to move the measure in time, it is just a matter of doing it.
"We're not getting any push back at all," said Bill Lane, director of government affairs at Caterpillar.
But, if for some reason, the bill doesn't move now, Lane said it is all risk for U.S. businesses.
"Whether mildly negative or catastrophic, we're giving our competitors the advantage in Russia," he said.
"It's irresponsible to have a situation where Chinese competitors have more rights to compete than the United States."
Bruce Josten, vice president of the Chamber's government affairs, put out one last reminder to Ways and Means lawmakers.
"Contrary to popular misconception, PNTR does not extend any 'trade preferences' to Russia," he wrote in a Wednesday letter.
"Rather, it exclusively benefits U.S. workers, farmers, ranchers, and companies selling their goods and services in the Russian market."
The House Ways and Means is expected to move a repeal bill, which mirrors the Senate measure, through the panel on Thursday then link it with the human-rights legislation in the House Rules Committee before sending the measure to the floor.