Senator warns White House on Russia trade bill
WASHINGTON A SENIOR US senator warned the White House on Thursday to expect a tough battle over legislation to boost trade ties with Russia because of Moscow’s human rights record and foreign policy, especially its support for rebellion-torn Syria.
“This is not a government that can be trusted to uphold its international commitments or give a fair shake to American businesses,” Senator Jon Kyl, the No 2 Republican in the Senate, said at a hearing on the Russia trade bill.
With Russia on the verge of joining the World Trade Organisation, the United States is under pressure to repeal a largely symbolic Cold War-era provision known as the Jackson- Vanik amendment that is at odds with WTO rules.
The measure tied US trade relations with the former Soviet Union to the rights of Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate freely. The Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago, and Russia has been judged to be in compliance with the Jackson-Vanik provision since the 1990s.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said failure to repeal that measure and approve “permanent normal trade relations,” or PNTR, would deny American companies the market-opening benefits of Russia joining the WTO.
“If the United States does not grant PNTR, that does not hurt Russia one whit. It hurts the United States, dramatically,” Baucus said. “If we do grant PNTR, it helps Americans, it doesn’t help Russia. It helps us.” Underscoring that point, a coalition of 173 US companies and business groups released a letter on Thursday urging lawmakers to support the measure. “Without PNTR, US companies and their employees will be left behind our competitors in this growing and profitable market,” the coalition said.
WTO members approved Russia’s entry in December, and it is expected to join formally by the end of July, 30 days after the Russia Duma passes legislation to implement remaining commitments under its WTO accession agreement.
Baucus told reporters after the hearing with US industry groups he intended to move PNTR legislation in the Democrat-controlled Senate in the coming months, but probably would wait for the Duma to act first.