WASHINGTON, June 20, 2012- While Russia’s accession to the WTO inches closer, Congress members are debating the appropriate way to address legislation that would grant Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status with the nation, among the humanitarian and cooperative concerns they have with Russia.
The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing over the issue on Thursday. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he will ask questions of administration officials about Russia’s treatment of U.S. agricultural goods.
“As we look to possibly grant Permanent Normal Trade Relations to Russia as part of the WTO accession process, livestock producers in the United States need the President to give attention to sanitary and phytosanitary issues,” Grassley said. “As it stands, Russians have standards that simply aren’t supported by science for some U.S. meat and poultry exports.”
Senators Grassley, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., today released a letter signed by 32 other senators asking the Obama Administration to prioritize Russia’s compliance with scientific standards set for international trade of beef, pork and poultry products as part of negotiations with Russia over international trade relations.
“Nebraska livestock producers have seen a drop in sales from Russia imposing standards not based entirely on sound science,” Nelson said. “Russia’s restrictions on American livestock violate the WTO rules, and we must have assurances Russia will abide by all of its rules and standards before Russia joins the WTO.”
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk testified on the issue before the House Committee on Ways and Means Wednesday, noting that Russia will officially become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) no later than August 22 and that without the United States granting PNTR, U.S. exports will be put at a disadvantage.
“This Administration strongly and repeatedly urged Congress to act on these measures in order to ensure American farmers, ranchers and manufacturers will reap the benefits of Russia’s WTO membership,” he said. “Unless the WTO agreement applies between Russia and the United States, our exports will not have the certainty that Russia will not suddenly raise its tariffs.”
"We could be paying tariffs sometimes double what other countries are paying,” he added.
Committee Chairman David Camp, R-Mich., emphasized that “to obtain the benefits of the concessions Russia made to join the WTO, we must grant Russia PNTR,” but also highlighted several concerns Congress has with the nation. Among these concerns are Russia’s abuse of sanitary and phytosanitary requirements to keep out U.S. meat exports, Russia’s failure to address Internet piracy and problems relating to foreign policy and human rights.
Camp noted “there is the concern that Russia will continue to discriminate against U.S. meat exports, particularly pork.”
However, Kirk said that if PNTR is granted, “we now have the enforceable disciplines of the world trade rules. We will not hesitate to protect our rights within the WTO.”
In addition to PNTR status, Kirk emphasized the importance of repealing the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a Cold War-era amendment that denies favorable trade relations between Russia and the United States.
“In order to have full benefits of WTO accession we have to extend PNTR,” Kirk explained. “If we left Jackson-Vanik in place, we extend it annually, but it’s conditional. Maintaining the application of Jackson-Vanik to Russia offers no leverage with Russia over areas of disagreement.”
Kirk also stated, as did Chairman Camp, that he would prefer to see a “clean bill” out of Congress that addresses only Jackson-Vanik and PNTR. This is in contrast to several members’ intentions to incorporate humanitarian measures into a Russian trade relations bill.
Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin, D-Mich., said legislation is unlikely to pass the Senate and the House without a humanitarian provision.
“PNTR legislation should not be enacted without the Magnitsky bill to address gross human rights violations, and we should consider other legislative proposals to strengthen the rule of law in Russia,” Levin said.
The Magnitsky bill, which some senators implied will be included in their legislation, would require the United States to deny visas and freeze the assets of Russians linked to the death of an anti-corruption lawyer who died after a year in Russian jail.
However, Ambassador Kirk and Department of State Deputy Secretary William Burns maintained that humanitarian issues and the current trade issue should be addressed on separate tracts.
“At end of the day this is a bipartisan jobs bill,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas. “It gives us Americans the opportunity to hold them accountable to play by the rules. There are also real concerns about Russia’s living up to its commitment, and I encourage the Administration to keep working in those areas.”
Levin maintained that Russia must prove its commitment to the cessation of violence in Syria, because “as we meet, its government is engaging in the slaughter of its people, including innumerable innocent, helpless children.”
Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, claimed “the timing for this could not be worse,” regarding a trade relations initiative with Russia. “I hope that we do not, at this critical point in relations with Russia, forget about these issues.”
Deputy Secretary Burns called a clean bill “a smart long-term investment.”
“WTO accession can help contribute to a more open political system in Russia,” he added. “It’s not a magic cure, but a very important contribution.”
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