Senate Finance moving to open up Russia trade
July 18, 2012
Vicki Needham, Bernie Becker and Peter Schroeder
Russia rising up the agenda: The Senate Finance Committee will mark up a compromise measure on Wednesday that would grant permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to Moscow as the country edges closer to joining the World Trade Organization.
Panel Democrats and Republicans have crafted a deal that would require the Obama administration to boost its monitoring of Russia's trade practices and legal system, which the GOP argues strengthens the legislation.
Another bill, aimed at punishing those accused of killing Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, also is on the agenda. Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has said he intends to link the two bills.
The Magnitsky bill was reported out of Senate Foreign Relations last month even though Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said he had concerns about its scope, which could apply to human-rights abuses outside of Russia.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have ramped up their efforts in recent weeks to convince lawmakers to grant PNTR to Russia before the nation officially becomes a member of the WTO in August.
Businesses make the case that U.S. companies will be at a competitive disadvantage if Congress can't complete a deal before leaving for the month-long August recess.
The Chamber sent a letter to members of Congress on Tuesday, urging them to act swiftly to approve PNTR.
“It’s a common mistake to think Jackson-Vanik gives the United States leverage over Russia," said Bruce Josten, the Chamber's executive vice president for Government Affairs.
"On the contrary, keeping Jackson-Vanik on the books allows Moscow to deny the benefits of those market-opening reforms to American workers, farmers, and companies — and do so with the WTO’s blessing.”
U.S. companies see huge potential in Russia, which boasts the ninth largest economy in the world and a growing middle class, the letter said.
Because no other WTO member has a law similar to Jackson-Vanik, all of Russia’s trading partners except the United States will immediately benefit from Russia membership.
PNTR does not extend any “trade preferences” to Russia.
"Rather, it exclusively benefits U.S. workers, farmers, ranchers, and companies selling their goods and services in the Russian market," Josten said.
"The United States gives up nothing — not a single tariff — in approving PNTR."
As John Murphy, the Chamber's vice president for International Affairs, said in a Free Enterprise blog post on Tuesday: "Momentum is building ... With Russia’s accession to the WTO set for August, we can’t afford to wait."
The committee will also consider legislation affecting trade benefits for the Dominican Republic, sub-Saharan Africa and a bill renewing sanctions on Burma.