Russia Day at WTO Ministerial, Congress and PNTR
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It's day two at the 8th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Geneva. In many regards, today is the main event after yesterday's opening session. Afterall, it's Russia Day at the Ministerial.
After 18 years of negotiations (ups and downs, stops and starts), later today Russia will formally be invited to join the WTO. Without question, this is the most significant country accession since China joined the WTO 10 years ago. Just like China, Russia is taking on very significant commitments (several hundred pages worth) as the price of admission to join the world trade body. Importantly, Russia is signing up to the same rules as every other WTO member. Russia will benefit tremendously from joining the WTO and all WTO members will benefit tremendously from finally having Russia in the WTO. The U.S. business commmunity-including the Chamber, NFTC, Farm Bureau, CSI, USCIB, USRBC- are hosting a reception in Geneva tonight to celebrate Russia's invitation to join the WTO. Russia's formal invitation today will need to be followed by action in Moscow to implement these commitments. That is expected to happen in early 2012. Soon thereafter, they will become full fledge members of the WTO. However, there is one wrinkle that needs to be taken care of so U.S. companies can fully take advantage of Russia's membership to the WTO: Jackson-Vanik.
(Note: Samoa and Montenegro are also being formally invited to join the WTO at the Ministerial).
Until Congress waives Jackson-Vanik and thereby provides Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) for Russia, U.S. companies will be at a disadvantage to our global competitors (think European and Asian) in the Russian market. We know it will not be an easy fight on the Hill for many reasons, but we will make the case why it's the right thing to do. It's important to keep in mind that this is a one way deal for the United States. We didn't have to make any concessions to get this deal with Russia. Russia had to make all of the concessions and make all of the commitments. The question is whether U.S. companies will be able to enjoy all of those benefits.
The Chamber will push hard for Congress to start the process for PNTR in early 2012. The House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committees should hold hearings ASAP. It will be one of our top trade priorities next year and we will put the full force of the Chamber behind it, just like we did with the recent FTAs with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.
It's Russia Day in Geneva. Soon it will be Russia Day on Capitol Hill.
Time to get our buttons ready...