By STEVE BINDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Russia appears headed for approval before year’s end, following strong support for the measure in the U.S. House earlier this month.
Federal representatives voted 365-43 on a measure that moves Russia out from under the Jackson-Vanik Act from 1974 and would put American producers on the same level as other countries vying for Russia’s consumer market.
Senate leaders, who already had one version of similar legislation pending since early June, said they expect to act on the issue before the end of December. Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and particularly ag interests, praised the House vote, noting the significant amount of bipartisan support it received.
“We commend members of the House for their strong bipartisan vote approving Russia PNTR legislation, and House Ways & Means Committee leaders Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) for their bipartisan leadership,” said Doug Oberhelman, chair and CEO of Illinois-based Caterpillar, Inc.
“Ensuring that American companies and workers can compete in the growing Russian market is essential to increasing U.S. exports, growing our economy and creating more American jobs.”
Russia was allowed entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in late August, and it has the world’s sixth-largest economy. As of last year, the country was the 20th largest trading partner with the United States, with about $11 billion in goods purchased by Russia, including about $770 million in meat, dairy and grains.
Given Russia’s admittance to the WTO, if Congress does not permanently lift its trade restrictions under the Jackson-Vanik Act, the United States risks losing trade business to other countries. Legislation as proposed also would protect American producers against additional trade restrictions and higher tariffs, said Levin, a 30-year Congressman and the ranking Democrat on the House’s Ways & Means panel.
During debate on the House floor, he noted the legislation protects companies with additions that “hold Russia’s feet to the fire, if I might say so, in terms of their meeting their obligations.”
Rep. Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican and chair of the House Ag Committee, agreed. “For many years our exporters faced arbitrary and unpredictable market barriers in the Russian market, and we are pleased that our two countries will finally be trading on a level playing field,” he said in a statement.
“This action will provide additional value and increased access into a growing market for our farmers and ranchers through lower tariffs and more certain trade rules.”
Steve Wellman, president of the American Soybean Assoc., called on senators to support the measure with the same level of bipartisanship.
“Russia was admitted as a member of the World Trade Organization three months ago, and since that time, other nations within the WTO have been able to fully access the Russian market without penalty, but without graduating Russia from the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and establishing PNTR, U.S. farmers can’t,” he said.
“With this bill signed into law, the U.S. creates opportunities for our farmers to compete in one of the world’s largest and most promising economies.”
Russian leaders criticized part of the measure that included human rights provisions, the so-called Magnitsky bill, named after a lawyer who died in a Russian prison in 2009 after accusing government officials of fraud.
It is unclear how Russia will respond down the road, but the country could limit visas to certain Americans needing to travel to Russia, some lawmakers suggested.