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Senate Finance Chair Seeks Common Ground with Russia on Trade

Russia was formally invited to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) at the end of last year, and their membership could create a world of opportunities for U.S. exporters. However, these opportunities could be left unfulfilled if Congress doesn't act on legislation approving permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Russia before their government approves its accession agreement.

To speed up the process and get the rest of a wary Congress on board, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) met with Russian officials on a recent trade mission designed to ensure that the U.S. takes full advantage of Russia's entry to the WTO. Russia will become an official WTO member 30 days after ratifying its accession agreement, which it must do by early July. If, by that point, Congress has not passed legislation providing Russia with PNTR, the U.S. could miss out on several lucrative business opportunities.

Lingering concerns about intellectual property rights and market access for U.S. companies have led Baucus and his colleagues to urge both the WTO and the U.S. Trade Representative to hold Russia to a very high standard as the country joins the global trade collective. Much is at stake when it comes to the country's accession: while U.S. exports to Russia currently average about $9 billion a year, that number is expected to double within five years as a result of Russia joining the WTO.

"Expanding trade with Russia could mean billions of dollars of new opportunities for American businesses, ranchers and farmers and create thousands of jobs here at home. But Russia has to play by the rules, and having Russia in the WTO will help to make that happen," said Baucus, highlighting some specific barriers still handicapping the U.S.-Russia trade relationship. "Russia has made progress opening its economy over the past two decades, and it's critical this progress continues through its WTO accession. Russia now needs to end its unscientific barriers to agricultural products like beef, poultry, pork and dairy, and it needs to improve enforcement of intellectual property rights."

"Establishing permanent normal trade relations with Russia would be a major boost for our exports and will help us address these serious issues in the WTO," he added.

Baucus met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, as well as First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shugalov, who serves as Russia's top official on economic and trade issues, and Minister of Economic Development Elvira Nabiullina.

To learn more about how to best export to Russia, tune into FCIB's upcoming "Doing Business in Russia" webinar, scheduled for March 21. Click here to register.

JJacob Barron, CICP, NACM staff writer