Russian upper house backs WTO entry

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 18, 2012 5:02 AM
Russian upper house backs WTO entry

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's upper house of parliament voted on Wednesday to ratify entry into the World Trade Organisation, which now needs only the signature of President Vladimir Putin to complete the country's 18-year bid to join the trade rules club.

Russia will finally become the WTO's 156th member 30 days after Putin signs off on a deal struck last December that would require Moscow to cut import tariffs and open up key sectors of its economy to foreign investment.

The Federation Council vote, carried easily with 144 lawmakers for in the 166-strong chamber, was a formality after the State Duma lower house backed WTO entry last week by a 30-seat majority.

Opposition lawmakers have opposed accession on fears that Russian industry and farmers cannot compete on world markets.

The Russian government has said that it will start cutting tariffs from September 1 after agreeing to gradually lower import duties from an average of 9.5 percent now to 6 percent by 2015.

The United States could, however, miss out on those trade benefits if Congress does not vote to repeal a Cold War-era provision that links awarding so-called permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to emigration rights for Soviet Jews.

The Jackson-Vanik amendment, which dates back to 1974, is not in line with WTO rules. Regarded by Moscow as an anachronism, the provision has long been a bone of contention in bilateral relations.

If Jackson-Vanik is not repealed, Russia would be in a position to deny U.S. exporters the market-opening concessions it made to join the global trade group.

President Barack Obama's administration backs repealing Jackson-Vanik, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat, plans to push forward a PNTR bill this month.

But House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Republican, has not made the same pledge, pointing to partisan frictions on trade with Russia ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November.

(Writing by Douglas Busvine; editing by Stephen Nisbet)