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House to take up Russia trade bill next week

Associated Press Modified: November 9, 2012 at 3:15 pm •  Published: November 9, 2012

There are differences between the House and Senate approaches to the Magnitsky measure that need to be worked out.

The administration and economists have predicted that U.S. exports of goods and services, currently at $11 billion, could double in five years if normal trade relations are established.

But without congressional action, American businesses stand to lose out to other foreign competitors also bidding to increase their share of the Russian market. The United States, which now accounts for only 4.5 percent of Russian imports, already lags behind China, with a 16 percent share, and Europe with 40 percent.

The Coalition for U.S.-Russia Trade this week sent lawmakers a letter signed by more than 500 trade associations and businesses urging quick action on the trade bill. "In what should be an exciting time of Russia's market-opening for U.S. business, our executives have been relegated to an 'observer' status — watching as our competitors will snap up contracts that will lock in commercial relationships for years to come," the coalition wrote.

Christopher Wenk, senior director of international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said getting the trade bill passed has been the top legislative trade priority for the Chamber this year. "This is obviously long overdue," he said. "The bottom line is that we under-export to Russia right now, and there is a lot of potential out there."

The main objective of the trade bill would be eliminating what is called the Jackson-Vanik provision, passed in 1974, that tied trade with the Soviet Union to Moscow's allowing Jews and other minorities to leave the country. The act has long outlived its purpose and presidents have annually waived it over the past 20 years, but it must be removed before U.S.-Russia trade can be fully normalized.