WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 – Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson gave the keynote address at the U.S.-Russia Business Council’s Agribusiness Forum in Omaha this morning. He applauded the progress the United States and Russia have made as economic trade partners, but also pushed Russia to end practices that put American producers at a disadvantage.

“Mistrust, uneasiness and too little understanding between the world’s two super powers … led to decades when virtually no trade existed between our two countries. But times changed and thinking evolved,” Senator Nelson said during his speech. “Russia is now the United States’ 23rd largest goods and trading partner, with more than $30 billion in two-way trade during 2010. It is the 17th largest importer of American agricultural products.

“Vehicles, machinery, poultry, red meat and other goods are flowing back and forth between our countries, benefitting Americans and Russians every day.

Nebraska companies exported more than $5.8 billion worth of products in 2010, including more than $70 million to Russia, the 12th leading importer of Nebraska products.

“But there is still a lot of progress we have to make,” Nelson said.

Nelson pointed to the United States’ massive trade deficit with Russia as one issue.

“The value of goods the United States imports from Russia is nearly five times as much as the value of the goods we export to Russia. Mutual trade is important. But so is balanced trade,” Nelson said.

He added that he is even more concerned that Russia continues to place barriers in the way of international commerce and said:

         Russia’s sanitary and phytosanitary restrictions on meat imports are not based on science or safety concerns, but they have reduced American pork sales to Russia by nearly two-thirds.

         Russia’s high tariffs on a wide variety of products – including agricultural machinery, chemicals, plastic products and more – create an uneven playing field for Americans companies.

         Russia’s lax enforcement of intellectual property rights must improve if American artists and inventors are to be properly compensated for their creativity.

“I agree that we would all benefit from Russia gaining membership into the World Trade Organization, but I cannot see how my colleagues in the U.S. Senate will support the Russian accession process unless these issues are resolved,” Nelson said. “If Russia can make progress on these issues, it will go a long way towards winning goodwill in Washington.”

Nelson said increasing trade between the U.S. and Russia has already improved diplomatic relations between the two countries, and he is hopeful that removing trade barriers can further improve the U.S.-Russia relationship.

“I’ve always felt that one of the most effective ways to strengthen international relationships is through trade, because when it’s fair, everyone benefits,” Nelson said. “If a trade agreement is fairly negotiated and honestly executed, it will build trust between the parties. …Commerce can connect us. It can break down political barriers. It can give us common ground.” 

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