Russia’s deputy prime minister tried to patch up frayed trade and political relations with the United States this week, promising cooperation on agricultural and other economic issues.
But Alexei Gordeyev, also Russia’s agriculture minister, left key U.S. lawmakers unsatisfied with his country’s stance on U.S. actions in Iraq and trade protections that hurt U.S. farmers.
Russia and the United States were at odds over military intervention in Iraq and continue to spar over reconstruction efforts there.
Predating the Iraq crisis, Russian trade barriers to U.S. meat and poultry had angered lawmakers by blocking access to one of the United States’ top markets.
Mr. Gordeyev arrived this week in Washington with the intention of to improving trade relations between the two countries.
He left with a memorandum on agricultural cooperation, signed with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman. But he failed to win backing on Capitol Hill for legislation that would lift Cold War-era trade restrictions and allow the country to take a step toward World Trade Organization membership.
The Cold War-era rule requires the U.S. president to report whether Russia allows its citizens to freely leave the country. Known as Jackson-Vanik, it was designed to allow emigration of Russian Jews.
“I support moving legislation to graduate Russia from the Jackson-Vanik statute under the right circumstances, but it seems every time we take one step forward in Congress, Russia takes two steps back,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.
Mr. Grassley is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the rule.
“Right now, it isn’t clear that we have the support needed in Congress to approve legislation to remove Russia from the Jackson-Vanik statute,” he said.
Russia’s lack of support for U.S. efforts to liberate Iraq, plus trade barriers on U.S. pork, beef and poultry make it difficult to for Russia to gain support in Congress, he said.
In the trade arena, barriers on U.S. meat and poultry have especially hurt the farming industry. Russia is traditionally the United States’ biggest market, and sales are largely chicken legs and thighs, which often go to waste if sales are limited to the United States.
Russia in March 2002 banned poultry from the United States ostensibly over health issues — Russia claimed that U.S. poultry contained antibiotics not allowed by their veterinary rules.
Technical issues related to health issues appear cleared and shipments resumed late last year, but now U.S. poultry faces quotas that Russia implemented to protect its own producers.
Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, a Stone Mountain, Ga.-based association, met briefly with Mr. Gordeyev Thursday in Washington.
The tone from Russia’s agriculture ministry was positive but the quotas will limit U.S. sales there, he said. The association represents U.S. producers such as Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms and ConAgra Foods.
“While progress has certainly been made in the technical discussion surrounding poultry, we will continue to press for U.S. poultry to have open access to the Russian market,” said Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
“We still need to see a commitment on Russia’s behalf to reform their trade practices, as a condition of future WTO accession,” he said in a prepared statement after a meeting with Mr. Gordeyev.
Mr. Gordeyev met yesterday with Vice President Dick Cheney, where the leaders discussed economic relations and the repeal of Jackson-Vanik, said Jennifer Millerwise, Mr. Cheney’s spokeswoman.