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Hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee - Russia's WTO Accession and Granting Permanent Normal Trade Relations


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We need forthright consideration of what PNTR means and how it fits within our overall relationship with Russia. I urge that these are key points:

1. Jackson-Vanik was an amendment to a trade bill that was an important part of trade policy at that time. That amendment has served its purpose with respect to Russia. Russia now has a 20-year record of allowing its citizens to freely emigrate. Despite earlier efforts to repeal Jackson-Vanik separately, it has not proven possible to do so and it should now be repealed as part of action on PNTR.

2. There are clear commercial advantages to granting Russia PNTR. PNTR gives U.S. companies, workers, and farmers full advantages of Russia's WTO membership. And, as we all know, failing to grant PNTR does not prevent Russia from joining the WTO. It only prevents the United States from gaining the benefits of Russia's WTO membership.

3. Based on past experiences, there is reason to be concerned whether Russia will live up to the letter and spirit of its WTO commitments. In addition to a general concern as to whether Russia will comply with its obligations, there are specific concerns over Russia's enforcement of intellectual property rights; its commitment to join the WTO Information Technology Agreement; and its unjustified barriers to U.S. meat exports. We will likely discuss all of these issues in this hearing.

Because follow through is so important, as has been discussed between our staff and with the Senate, we should spell out specifically these trade issues in the PNTR legislation, not as conditions, but as clear understandings as to what actions will be taken by Russia.

4. There is significant cause for real concern about the status of the rule of law and human rights today in Russia. For two reasons, there is a need to find ways to reflect that concern in the PNTR legislation.

If there is an absence of a rule of law in the area of human rights, it is more likely to be absent in other areas, including commercial relations.

Further, trade between nations needs to be viewed as more than just about dollars and cents, because its impact is more than just that. This needs to be reflected in the contents of trade agreements, including PNTR, as it was with China PNTR.

So PNTR legislation should not be enacted without the Magnitsky bill to address gross human rights violations, and we should consider other legislative proposals to strengthen the rule of law in Russia and to protect and make whole U.S. investors that have been harmed by the lack of a rule of law there.

5. I believe that we share a very deep concern about tragic events in Syria. As we meet, its government is engaging in the slaughter of its people, including innumerable innocent, helpless children.

Somehow, each of us must raise our voices.

In their joint communication on Monday, President Obama and President Putin stated their purpose to "prioritize the expansion and diversification of our bilateral trade and investment through nondiscriminatory access to our markets based on international rules" and that "an important step in this direction is Russia's accession to the WTO."

In the same communication the two Presidents expressed their intention to stop the bloodshed in Syria and called for "an immediate cessation of all violence and express full support for the efforts of UN/League of Arab States Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, including moving forward on political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system …" The two Presidents were "united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future."

There is an overarching need to see if in the near future Russia acts to implement its words.

I know that PNTR may or may not provide this Congress considerable leverage regarding Russia's conduct relating to the Syrian Government and that in general there can be perils in linking trade and over-all foreign policy issues.

At the same time, the particular situation in Syria is extraordinary and dire.

Therefore, I urge that in order for us to carry out our committee's responsibilities with jurisdiction over trade issues, we work together on a bipartisan bi-cameral basis on a PNTR bill that

1.) includes the mentioned provisions relating to trade enforcement,

2.) will include Magnitsky legislation, and

3.) with the clear understanding that after a bill is reported out of Committee in the near future, action on the floor will be withheld for a period of time to determine whether Russia will join our nation and others in steps to address the Assad regime's horrendous violence against its own people.

We can do no less. Trade is about commerce; it also can be about conscience.

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