- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2003

The United States last week patched up a trade rift with Russia, potentially removing one major obstacle to that country joining the World Trade Organization.

Russia has been working toward WTO membership, which would give it a firmer footing in the global economy. But it has angered key U.S. lawmakers by blocking some poultry, beef and pork imports, and by not supporting U.S. policy in Iraq. Congress, in turn, refused to lift Cold War-era legislation that effectively prevents Russia from joining the trade body.

The Bush administration had repeatedly said it would make lifting the legislation, known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a priority but Congress has not budged.

An agreement in principle announced yesterday on poultry, beef and pork offers some hope for administration policy.

“To enhance the climate here for moving on Jackson-Vanik we needed to resolve this problem. I’m glad we’ve done that and I hope that will create a better climate for us to achieve what the president wants in the removal of Jackson-Vanik,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said yesterday.

The rule, from 1974, denies permanent normal-trade relations to communist countries that restrict emigration rights, and requires the U.S. president to report whether Russia allows its citizens to freely leave the country. It was designed to allow emigration of Russian Jews.

Congress must grant Russia permanent normal trade relations before it can join the 148-member WTO.

Russia’s government has described the rule as a relic of the Cold War. The Russian Embassy did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment.

Despite some political differences between the United States and Russia, Republican and Democratic leaders from the House International Relations and the Senate Foreign Relations committees have reached a consensus that the Jackson-Vanik legislation should be lifted, said a spokesman for Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the House committee.

But the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, which have jurisdiction over trade matters, must consider the legislation.

“With the adoption of responsible trade policies, such as this agreement, Russia will be in a better position to integrate further into the international economy,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and Finance Committee chairman, said in a statement.

“Of course, with any agreement, the key is to ensure that the terms are followed and commitments upheld,” he added.

Russia is the top export market for U.S. poultry, reaching about $700 million in 2001 before tailing off to less than $400 million last year because of trade restrictions. Poultry is the number one agricultural export for Maryland and number two for Virginia.

Russia will keep in place some restrictions in the form of tariff rate quotas, which allow a certain amount of a product into a market before higher fees must be paid by the exporter, but guarantee the U.S. market share under the new agreement.

Final details must still be worked out.

“We are pleased with the development but from our standpoint the proof will be in the execution of the agreement,” said Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

Russia has used a system of health inspections, in addition to more traditional trade barriers, to keep U.S. products out.

“These issues are often used to keep products out of their country. We might have a great agreement … but if they use these pretexts, then we’ve made no progress,” Mr. Goodlatte said.

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