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Mr. JOHANNS. Madam President, I come to the floor today in support of approving permanent normal trade relations with Russia.
Over the past several years, I have often come to the floor in favor of free-trade agreements and other efforts to expand market access for U.S. exports. This legislation is yet another one of those opportunities. This vote to repeal a 1970s trade law and recognize Russia as a member of the WTO will result in increased export opportunities for U.S. manufacturers, farmers, and ranchers. Increased exports lead to increased job creation.
Russia is the world's ninth largest economy, with a population of 142 million and a growing middle class. Russia is already a significant trading partner importing over $10 billion annually from the United States. In just a 5-year period, Nebraska's exports to Russia increased fourfold. In fact, in 2011 alone, total exports of goods from Nebraska were valued at $154 million.
I believe we have the opportunity to continue this impressive trend by recognizing Russia as a WTO member. A vote in favor of this legislation will level the playing field for U.S. job creators looking to take advantage of these growing export opportunities. This is especially true for Nebraska's equipment and machinery manufacturers. My State has a reputation for producing some of the most sophisticated irrigation equipment in the world.
Acknowledging Russia's membership in the WTO will reduce tariffs on this technology from 10 percent to 5 percent--allowing U.S.-based companies to compete more effectively with others around the globe. Additionally, other agriculture equipment and machinery manufacturers in Nebraska and elsewhere will see tariffs reduced or eliminated. Currently, these tariff rates are up to 25 percent. They will eventually drop to an average well below 10 percent when Russia meets all of its WTO commitments. This is a big deal beyond any single state or sector.
Total U.S. agricultural exports to Russia are forecast at more than $1.4 billion for 2012, and this further opens the doors of opportunity. Here is another example: As part of the WTO accession process, Russia is required to lower its tariffs on U.S. beef products to 15 percent. Additionally, Russia must allow a greater volume of frozen beef imports. The quota will nearly triple: from approximately 22,000 tons in 2010 to 60,000 tons. Meat production is a big part of our agricultural economy--in my home State and in our country--so this is noteworthy.
Now, our agricultural producers will be the first to tell you that they don't think Russia always plays fair in the world of exports. They say Russia sometimes offers unjustifiable reasons to block our products. The fact is, Russia has a less-than-stellar record on establishing predictable, science-based import standards. So our producers have not always had reasonable access to its markets.
As Secretary of Agriculture, I relentlessly negotiated with Russia and other trading partners to grant the same access to their markets for our agricultural products as we granted to their products. This seems fair, right? They should offer us the same access we offer them? But based on Russia's track record on U.S. meat exports, especially pork and poultry, I continue to have concerns. That is part of the reason I have decided we should recognize their membership in the WTO.
The WTO has been an important tool for the United States to level the playing field for our products in the international trading system. Russia will be obligated to apply international food safety standards. This should mean more certainty and predictable market access for U.S. agricultural products. And these obligations will be enforceable through the use of WTO dispute settlement mechanisms.
Integrating Russia into a rules-based trading system and providing the means to enforce those rules will further strengthen the ability of U.S. businesses to export products to Russia. But this is an area where we will need to show great vigilance. As Russia implements its trade commitments, the administration must ensure that Russia does not revert to its old ways on trade. Further delay in repealing Jackson-Vanik would only hurt us.
On August 22, Russia formally joined the WTO after a lengthy process. Over 150 other nations have already taken action and are reaping the export benefits. The United States has been left in the dust. Until we act, we cannot enjoy the lowered tariffs, increased market access, dispute settlement process, and other benefits of Russia's membership in the WTO. Thus, we should vote to repeal Jackson-Vanik and accept Russia as a permanent trading partner.
The move ensures that American businesses are not disadvantaged and losing market share to their competitors. Russia already has access to the U.S. market, so additional delay on PNTR only hurts our workers and companies. Delaying action will only result in the delay of job creation and more lost opportunities for American manufactures, farmers, and ranchers.
Our efficient export system, including handling, processing and distribution of our goods and agricultural products, creates millions of U.S. jobs. At a time when we face some very serious challenges in our country related to debt, deficit, and unemployment, it makes sense to unlock this door of opportunity. Thus, I support removing application of Jackson-Vanik and intend to vote for PNTR with Russia. This status would help to level the playing field for U.S. exporters.
I encourage my colleagues to consider the economic impacts of this bill on our Nation's manufactures, farmers, ranchers, and other job creators, and I look forward to voting to support normalizing trade with Russia.
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