Congress must pass Russia trade bill by summer

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 07, 2012 11:03 AM
Congress must pass Russia trade bill by summer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress must quickly establish Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with Russia by repealing a Cold War trade provision that conflicts with global trade rules, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said on Wednesday.

Baucus, who recently visited Moscow, said passing PNTR before Russia joins the World Trade Organization (WTO) this summer has the potential to double U.S. exports to Russia in five years.

"If we don't pass PNTR by this summer, U.S. companies will lose out to competitors in China, Europe and the 150 other members of the WTO," the Montana Democrat said at a hearing. "As our economy continues to recover, we simply can't let that happen."

"And we give up nothing in return; not a single U.S. tariff will be reduced as part of this deal," Baucus said.

Congress passed legislation known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment at the height of the Cold War in 1974 that tied trade relations with the former Soviet Union to the rights of Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate freely.

Although Russia has been judged in compliance with the provision since at least the 1990s, it remains on the book. That creates a potential problem for U.S. exporters once Russia joins the WTO.

Leaving the provision on the books would allow Russia to deny U.S. companies the market-opening benefits of its accession to the WTO, putting them at a "competitive disadvantage" to other suppliers, Kirk said.

"This is decidedly in our interest to address this," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the finance committee panel.

(Reporting By Doug Palmer; Editing by Sandra Maler)