Senate passes Russia trade bill

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6, 2012- The Senate passed legislation granting permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Russia and Moldova today. The bill, H.R. 6156, passed by a vote of 92 to 4 and will now be sent to the President Barack Obama for his approval.

Similar legislation passed the Senate Finance Committee in July and the House passed its counterpart bill in November by a vote of 365 to 43.

U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) said the passage means “American businesses and entrepreneurs will no longer face a competitive disadvantage in the Russian market.”

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“Russia is the fifth largest importer of agricultural products and imported nearly $32 billion in agricultural commodities last year, making it a tremendous opportunity for commodity exporters,” Thune added.

The bill includes the Sergei Magnitsky Accountability Act, a human rights provision designed to hold Russian officials accountable for corrupt behavior. 

“This important legislation will lead to increased exports, new American jobs, and gives us a powerful new enforcement tool,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich. “The Magnitsky provision sends a strong message that the U.S. will not tolerate human rights transgressions.”

Since Russia joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in August, American companies have pushed for a standard trade relationship with the country, which requires Congress to repeal the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment. Without repealing the amendment and establishing PNTR, the United States cannot hold Russia accountable to the same WTO rules that it does for other countries, putting U.S. exporters at a competitive disadvantage. 

With PNTR, we can now take advantage of Russia's rapidly growing market and create U.S. jobs,” said House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas. “This legislation is long overdue and I urge the President to promptly sign it into law.”

According to USDA, two-way agricultural trade between the United States and Russia is valued at roughly $1.5 billion for fiscal year 2012, with American farm exports accounting for 97 percent of the total. 

The National Turkey Federation (NTF), National Chicken Council (NCC) and USA Poultry & Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) released a joint statement today noting they “appreciate the senators who voted in favor of this bill.”

“We commend their bipartisan voting for the betterment of trade, and we encourage the president to act quickly, as the House and Senate have, and sign this bill into law,” the groups stated.

Several members of Congress are concerned about Russia's unscientific barriers to U.S. agricultural products including beef, pork and poultry. Last week, Senator Chuck Grassley, R- Iowa, asked USDA to focus on lowering Russian barriers to U.S. agricultural products during a trade mission to promote U.S. agricultural products in the country. 

“The U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Department of Agriculture need to keep the pressure on Russia to eliminate safety standards not supported by sound science,” Grassley said.  “American farmers deserve to be treated fairly by our international trading partners, and trade officials from the Administration need to advocate for them as much as possible going forward.”

Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse said discussions during the trade mission in Russia this week “have gone better than anyone had anticipated.”

The trade mission, from Dec. 3-7, began in Moscow on Monday. Scuse said he discussed Russia's trade barriers, including sanitary and phytosanitary measures, with the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Oleg Aldoshin.


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