Members of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committee wrote U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk last month urging him to insist that Russia meet higher standards in Russia’s plans to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). “While we recognize that Russia has made progress in opening its economy since 1991,” the letter said, “the accession should address the serious problems that remain.”  Sending the letter were Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MI) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT), White House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), and Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI).  Russia’s  accession commitments in the following four areas are of particular concern to members of Congress:

  • actions blocking market access for U.S. agricultural products through unscientific health and safety requirements;
  • protection of intellectual property rights;
  • commitment to join the Information Technology Agreement; and
  • auto investment regime.

 The lawmaker letter strongely questioned Russia’s willingness to comply with the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement. “Russia’s track record in this area has not been good,” the letter said.  “It has blocked market access for certain U.S. agricultural products through unscientific health and safety requirements, and it has provided little or no guidance about how to comply with these requirements.”  The lawmakers noted that Russia’s actions have directly blocked U.S. exports and created significant uncertainty for U.S. exporters, adding that Russia must also commit to lower its tariff and quota barriers to U.S. agriculture products.

The final meeting of the WTO’s working party on Russian accession is scheduled for November 10-11, when it should approve the terms for Russia to bring its domestic trade regime in line with WTO requirements, schedules of market access commitments, and an accession protocol. At the December 15-17 ministerial conference in Geneva the working party report and the protocols of accession could be adopted.  If the ministers reach this decision to approve Russia’s membership in the WTO, Russia would then have to ratify the offer in the Duma and Federal Council.  The Russian president would then sign it. Thirty days after notifying the WTO that it has ratified the terms, Russia would become a member.

Senate House Committees with jurisdiction on trade issues will have to have Congressional action to graduate Russia from the Jackson-Vanik Amendment so that President Obama can grant Russia permanent normal trade relations (PNTR),  PNTR is a prerequisite for U.S. firms to benefit from the accession commitments, and the lawmakers said that high standards are essential to gaining legislative support for a vote on Jackson-Vanik, which is Title IV of th Trade Act of 1974.