House vote on Russia trade bill expected next week

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 09, 2012 1:50 PM
House vote on Russia trade bill expected next week

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives is expected to vote next week on a long-delayed bill to ensure U.S. companies receive all the market-opening benefits of Russia's recent accession to the World Trade Organization, congressional aides said on Friday.

The House Rules Committee has scheduled a meeting late Tuesday afternoon on the legislation to establish "permanent normal trade relations" (PNTR) with Russia, setting the stage for a full House vote on the bill by the end of the week, a House leadership aide said.

The Senate would also have to approve the White House-backed legislation for President Barack Obama to sign it into law.

Business groups say there is strong bipartisan support for the measure, but congressional leaders have delayed action all year in the face of concerns about Moscow's support for Iran and Syria and about its commitment to democracy and human rights.

On Thursday, a coalition of more than 500 companies and business organizations urged members of Congress to approve the bill quickly.

"For nearly 80 days now, all of the other 155 members of the WTO have been able to fully access Russia's market liberalizations, including new rules related to services, science-based animal and plant health, and intellectual property protection - but U.S. businesses cannot," the groups said.

The Business Roundtable welcomed news of the vote, and urged lawmakers to approve the bill.

"This legislation is needed to give U.S. companies and workers a fair chance to sell more of their goods and services to Russia," said BRT President John Engler in a statement. "Passage of this legislation will help increase U.S. exports and support American economic growth and jobs."

Russia joined the WTO in late August after 18 years of on-and-off negotiations. But in order for U.S. companies to receive all of the market-opening benefits, Congress has to repeal a Cold-War measure known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment.

The nearly 40-year-old provisions tied the most favorable U.S. tariff rates to the rights of Jews in the former Soviet Union to emigrate. Russia has been in compliance with the measure for nearly 20 years but Jackson-Vanik remains on the books, at odds with WTO rules that members provide each other normal trade relations on an unconditional basis.

Congress is expected to approve new legislation to punish Russian human rights violators as part of the PNTR bill.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Vicki Allen and Lisa Shumaker)