Congress should approve “permanent normal trade relations” (PNTR) with Russia this year the White House said this week, according to a Reuters report. Although Russia has not completed negotiations to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), “it’s clear that Russia’s ambition is to complete the accession process and become a WTO member by the end of the year,” Chris Wilson, assistant U.S. trade representative for the WTO and multilateral affairs told a meeting focused on Russia-WTO accession earlier this week.  “Our focus is on trying to achieve a vote before ‘that happens’,” Wilson added.

Wilson said it was important that Congress approve PNTR before a final WTO accession deal is reached because such action would better ensure that U.S. exporters immediately get the full benefits of Russia’s entry into the WTO.  When the WTO ministerial meeting is held this December, Russia’s accession would likely be on the meeting agenda.  If lawmakers fail to approve PNTR and do not address the Jackson-Vanik amendment, WTO rules would allow Moscow to deny the United States the new access it has negotiated in the Russian market while providing it to other WTO members, Wilson explained.  The U.S. government has judged Russia to be in compliance with the Jackson-Vanik provision since 1994.

Many in Congress, however, see a vote on PNTR as a proxy for a vote on Russia’s WTO accession and have resisted past efforts to approve PNTR before a final WTO deal is struck.  “It’s certainly plausible and conceivable to us” that a final deal for Russia to join the WTO can be reached in 2011, Wilson added.

Important issues remaining to be solved involve how Russia will harmonize its animal and plant food safety rules with global standards and Russian rules for investing in the automotive sector.  Another issue is the daunting task of consolidating all the import tariff cuts Russia has agreed to make in bilateral negotiations remains.  Compiling these deals with 50-some countries into a single tariff schedule will take time.  Russia hopes to finish negotiations this month with the United States, the European Union, Australia, Brazil, and other WTO members on new tariff-rate quotas for imported poultry, pork, and beef.  Washington also wants further evidence Moscow is serious about enforcing intellectual property rights, Wilson said.