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Camp Hearing on Russia’s Accession to the World Trade Organization and Granting Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations

June 20, 2012

(Remarks as Prepared)

Good morning.  I want to welcome everyone and extend a special welcome to our guests, the United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk; and the Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of State, Ambassador William Burns; as well as our second panel of witnesses, which will begin at 2:00 this afternoon.  I am looking forward to a discussion about Russia’s accession to the WTO and permanent normal trade relations or PNTR for Russia.  

Our ongoing relationship with Russia is a complex one, but also one with considerable potential for both countries.  That’s why I welcome Russia’s membership in the WTO, and that’s why I support PNTR for Russia.  The economic benefits are clear:  greater opportunities for U.S. employers, farmers, and ranchers to sell American goods and services to Russia.  We would give up nothing – not a single U.S. tariff – but we would obtain a powerful new enforcement tool and important rights, while bringing our two countries closer on multiple fronts.  

No matter what, Russia will join the WTO in a couple of months.  To obtain the benefits of the concessions Russia made to join the WTO, we must grant Russia PNTR.  

However, Russia continues to generate considerable skepticism on Capitol Hill.  Some of this skepticism is rooted in the significant bilateral commercial issues that we have with Russia.  For example, Russia continues to be on USTR’s priority watch list for inadequate enforcement and protection of intellectual property rights.  This problem is especially acute regarding Russia’s failure to address Internet piracy.

Another serious problem is Russia’s abuse of sanitary and phytosanitary requirements to keep out U.S. meat exports.  When Russia joins the WTO, it must adopt science-based SPS requirements that reflect international standards, but there is the concern that Russia will continue to discriminate against U.S. meat exports, particularly pork.  

These issues reflect the overall concern of how much Russia will live up to its WTO obligations.  It is one thing for a country to promise to follow the WTO rules, but it is another to actually follow those rules.  Members must have confidence that these outstanding commercial issues will be adequately addressed and that the Administration has a plan to ensure that Russia lives up to its WTO commitments.  

Members’ skepticism about Russia is also due to non-commercial issues, and I share the view of many Members that Russia poses significant problems relating to foreign policy and human rights.  However, while these issues must be discussed, I believe that holding up PNTR because of non-trade concerns does not increase our leverage to address them and does not delay Russia’s WTO accession.  

I also think that legislation granting Russia PNTR should be clean and targeted, or else the legislation could be unduly complicated and delayed.  

I welcome today’s hearing so that Members can raise the issues that are on their minds about Russia, giving the Administration the opportunity to respond to all concerns.  In my view, the Administration has not been vocal enough in promoting PNTR.  I am glad to see that Monday’s joint statement by the President and Russian President Putin began by mentioning Russia’s accession to the WTO and granting Russia PNTR, and I hope that the President will follow this up with more engagement with Congress and the American people and a strategy for Congressional consideration of PNTR.  I hope that today’s hearing will be an important step in the Administration’s effort to make its best case for why Congress should act this year on PNTR.

Finally, I also welcome the opportunity to hear from the private sector this afternoon about why Russia joining the WTO and granting Russia PNTR is so important to them.  Russia has a significant and growing economy, yet our economic relationship with Russia is not that large.  This imbalance indicates a substantial new opportunity to sell our goods and services in Russia and create jobs here at home.  However, every day we delay gives our foreign competitors and their workers a chance to get ahead – something we can hardly afford at this time.