US lawmakers urge Russian reforms for WTO bid
Senior US lawmakers urged the Obama administration that Russia help promote US jobs and a "level playing field" as it advances its two-decade bid to join the World Trade Organization.
Expressing concern over Russia's protection of intellectual property rights, blockage of market access for US agricultural products and its auto investment policies, the lawmakers warned that "serious problems" remain since the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union.
"We are writing to urge you to insist that Russia meet a high standard in the ongoing negotiations regarding Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization," the House of Representatives and Senate panel leaders wrote in a letter to US Trade Representatives Ron Kirk.
"While we recognize that Russia has made progress in opening its economy since 1991, the accession should address the serious problems that remain."
The signatories of the letter included Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat, and the panel's top Republican Orrin Hatch, along with Republican House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp and the panel's top Democrat Sander Levin.
Their concerns were significant because the US Congress would need to repeal a Cold War-era law, the so-called Jackson-Vanik amendment, in order to set the stage for Moscow to join the club of free-trading nations.
"We believe it is vitally important for potential members of the WTO to demonstrate that they are not only willing to agree to strong protection of intellectual property, but that they also possess the will and the ability to enforce these rights," the lawmakers wrote.
"Unfortunately, Russia's standard of IPR (intellectual property rights) protection has fallen short of these standards."
They urged Kirk to press Russia to joint the Information Technology Agreement, which provides duty free treatment to a wide range of information and communications technology products, and thus benefits the US high tech sector.
"We know that many are eager for Russia to join the WTO as soon as possible, but for the sake of US companies and workers, we must ensure that the deal achieves our high standards," they said, calling for Russia to lower its tariff and quota barriers to US agricultural products.
On Tuesday, US House Speaker John Boehner warned he would block Russia's WTO bid until it respects former Soviet republic Georgia's "territorial integrity."
Russia is the largest economy in the world to remain outside the WTO and has long expressed frustration with delays in the accession bid it launched in 1993.
After the Georgia-Russia war of 2008, Moscow recognized the Russian-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, but most of the world regards them as parts of Georgian territory.
Georgia, a WTO member since 2000, has said it could veto Russia's entry into the world body over the status of the two regions and is demanding the right to monitor cross-border trade.
© 2011 AFP