WASHINGTON (AP) — One of the first actions of the lame-duck Congress is an expected vote to give U.S. exporters greater access to Russia's newly opened markets.
Business groups have been clamoring for months for Congress to remove Cold War-era trade restrictions now that Russia is a member of the World Trade Organization. Because of those restrictions, American exporters are alone among the more than 150 WTO members in not being able to take advantage of the lower tariffs, intellectual property protections and other market-opening steps required by membership in the trade organization.
Before the election, House Republican leaders refused to bring up the legislation giving Russia permanent normal trade relations, blaming the White House for not being more assertive in promoting a bill that could be interpreted as being pro-Russian.
Although the bill requires no concessions on the U.S. side and could significantly increase U.S. exports to the world's ninth-largest economy, there was reluctance to vote on it in the run-up to the election when Russia was cracking down on dissidents, appeared to be an obstacle to ending the bloodshed in Syria and was being called the U.S.'s "No. 1 geopolitical foe" by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
The House, returning to Washington next week after some six weeks on the campaign trail, plans to take up the legislation that would extend permanent normal trade relations to Russia and another former Soviet state, Moldova. Senate Democratic leaders have stressed the importance of the issue and said they hope to take the legislation up soon after it passes the House. The Obama administration is a strong supporter.
To make the bill more palatable to critics of Russia's human rights record, both the House and Senate plan to combine the trade bill with legislation that imposes sanctions on Russian officials involved in human rights violations. That bill is named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian jail in 2009 after allegedly being subject to torture.