Eighty-three members of the U.S. House of Representatives recently sent a letter to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyakto in Washington expressing their keen interest in ensuring the conclusion of an agreement to effectuate Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Because Russia’s accession to the WTO will benefit both countries and strengthen trade and investment relations, it is essential that Russia revise on sound scientific footing its current sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements and bring itself into compliance with its future obligations as a member of the WTO, the letter urged.

The letter pointed out that Russia’s SPS requirements, which are fundamentally inconsistent with the core provisions of the WTO SPS Agreement, are being used to restrict imports of U.S. products. Russia is an important export market of agricultural products  for the United States, particularly poultry, beef, pork, and dairy products, but Russia’s current SPS requirements are causing U.S. exports to Russia to significantly decrease.  Russia’s requirements include antiquated, prescriptive rules for slaughter plant hygiene, a zero tolerance for the presence of antibiotics in meat, and non-science-based standards for controlling food-borne pathogens.

Notably, in 2009, Russia was the largest market for U.S. poultry meat exports, which totaled more than $762 million.  In 2010, U.S. poultry exports decreased to $316 million in the wake of new Russian regulations on poultry imports that effectively halted U.S. poultry exports until late last year, the letter explained to Ambassador Kislyak.

The members of Congress expressed the great need for Russia to build confidence by ensuring that the terms of its accession require Russia to abide by science-based rules that are transparent and based upon international standards and agree to the largest import quotas with the lowest in-quota and out-0f-quota rates possible. Accession to the WTO will obligate Russia to bind it agricultural tariffs and thereby add predictability of trade relations between the two countries, the letter said.

Those signing the letter expressed their support of efforts to reach a commercially meaningful accession agreement for Russia to join the WTO.  “Once such an agreement is concluded, we look forward to working to repeal Jackson-Vanik and pass Permanent Normal Trade Relations for Russia,” the letter said.

The letter concluded by pointing out that Russia’s WTO accession is in both countries’ interest and asked the Ambassador to encourage senior Russian government officials to engage with the U.S. Congress and to address trade as well as foreign policy and human rights issues that have been raised in Congress.