House passes Russia trade bill

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2012- The House approved legislation Friday morning that clears the way for the United States to establish Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with Russia. 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.   

The “Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012” passed with an overwhelming 365-43 vote today. The action now moves to the Senate, where the Finance Committee already unanimously approved a similar bill in July.  

“This bill would allow us to gain important rights and powerful new enforcement tools with respect to one of the world's largest economies without giving up a single tariff or other concession,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. David Camp, R-Mich., on the House floor today. “We could double or even triple U.S. exports to Russia within five years.”

Globally Positioned Agriculture

Without repealing the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and establishing PNTR, the United States cannot hold Russia accountable to the same WTO rules that it does for other countries. Several other nations do have normal trade relations status with Russia, putting U.S. exporters at a competitive disadvantage. 

 

“Establishing PNTR with Russia helps American farmers compete in one of the world's largest and most promising economies,” said American Soybean Association (ASA) President Steve Wellman.

ASA, one of the more than 500 members of the Coalition for U.S.-Russia Trade, said in a release that Russia is home to more than 140 million consumers and last year imported more than $770 million in U.S., meat, poultry, egg and dairy products, “which require soybean meal as feed in the production process.”

The National Chicken Council (NCC), National Turkey Federation (NTF), U.S. Poultry & Egg Association (USPOULTRY) and USA Poultry & Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) last week said “continuing to export $300 million of poultry to Russia annually will provide better incomes for more U.S. workers and additional poultry to be produced by a growing number of family farmers across America.”

“PNTR will ensure that poultry companies can take full advantage of new business opportunities, that Russia's commitments in the WTO are enforced and that American businesses are on an equal playing field in the Russian market,” the poultry groups added.

Michael Scuse, the Under Secretary of USDA Farm & Foreign Agricultural Services, told Agri-Pulse “Open Mic” that Russia becoming a member of the WTO presents “a great opportunity for us to go to Russia to start making some contacts and trying to open up some doors for our agricultural products.”

While he said he is optimistic about an upcoming trade mission to Russia, which will include 24 companies and seven departments of agriculture, he noted he would prefer the PNTR legislation be resolved before the trip. “I was hoping that that issue would be solved before I visited Russia and that's still a possibility in the lame duck session,” he said.

The bill passed in the House includes the Sergei Magnitsky Act, a human rights amendment designed to punish Russian officials involved in the death of Magnitsky, a lawyer who uncovered corruption in the Russian government.

“I'm pleased bill includes a Ways and Means Committee report that strongly condemns Russian support for Syria,” said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., while testifying at Tuesday's brief Rules Committee hearing. “It's not going to solve every human rights violation in Russia, but it's a step in that direction and I think it's an important step.”

Camp renewed those sentiments today, noting that “I also fully share the concerns of many of my colleagues on Russia's abysmal human rights record, and that is why I support adding the Magnitsky legislation to this bill, on the third anniversary of the murder of Sergei Magnitsky while imprisoned. “

Much as I believe that Russia does not always act responsibly, I also believe that this legislation cannot be seen as rewarding Russia. Instead, any benefit that is conferred is on U.S. job creators,” Camp said.

According to the House Ways and Means Committee, H.R. 6156, The Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal Act of 2012 does the following:

•           Ensures that U.S. employers, workers, farmers, and ranchers benefit from Russia's membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) by removing Russia from the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment and establishing PNTR. 

•           Contains provisions to address concerns about Russia's compliance with its WTO obligations, resolve bilateral trade issues between the United States and Russia, and promote the rule of law in Russia. 

•           Establishes PNTR with Moldova. 

•           Holds accountable those Russian government officials and others who participated in the arrest, murder, or cover-up of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky or who benefited from his death. 

•           Requires that those responsible for the death, torture, or repression of individuals investigating crimes by Russian government officials, or who were simply trying to exercise their basic human rights, be publicly named and sanctioned. 

•           Strikes directly at Russian officials and others who violate human rights by denying them visas and freezing their financial assets in the United States. 


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