US senate panel approves Russia trade, human rights bill
The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill to ensure U.S. exporters share in the benefits of Russias upcoming accession to the World Trade Organization and to also punish Russian officials for human rights violations.
The strong bipartisan vote improves chances for the bill to move quickly through the full Senate and the House of Representatives and be signed into law by President Barack Obama before Russia enters the WTO in August.
"That is our deadline for passing PNTR (permanent normal trade relations), " Senate Finance CommitteeChairman Max Baucus said. "If we miss that deadline, American farmers, ranchers and businesses will lose out to the other 154 members of the WTO."
Congress is under pressure from the White House and the business community to lift a Cold War human rights provision known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment that is at odds with WTO rules requiring members to treat exports from all other members the same on an unconditional basis.
The 1974 provision tied favorable U.S. tariff rates on Russian goods to the rights of Russian Jews to emigrate freely. It is mostly symbolic now because both Democratic and Republican administrations have judged Russiato be in compliance since the 1990s. But it remains on the books.
If Congress does not act, Russia could deny U.S. firms some of the market-opening concessions it made to join the WTO, putting those companies at a disadvantage to foreign competitors in one of the worlds 10-largest economies.
Earlier on Wednesday, the upper house of Russias parliament overwhelmingly passed legislation to implement the commitments Moscow made to join the WTO. Once Russian President Vladimir Putin signs the bill and formally notifies the WTO, Russia will become the newest member of the WTO in 30 days.