Business groups ready for last-ditch lobbying effort on Russian trade bill

Business groups are gearing up a last-ditch lobbying effort to win approval of Russian trade legislation before Congress leaves town to campaign before the November elections.

The legislation would grant permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to Russia, and ensure Russia does not raise tariffs on U.S. goods now that it is a member of the World Trade Organization. Offering permanent normal trade status is required of all WTO members.

“We need PNTR with Russia to be on equal footing with all of our foreign competitors,” Lauren Airey, director of international trade policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, told The Hill. “We're not going to let them go next week without a fight.”

ADVERTISEMENT
While the bill would not lower tariffs on Russian imports, lawmakers have been wary of approving legislation that could be seen as boosting Moscow, particularly in an electoral environment colored by tensions in the Middle East and Russia’s support for the Syrian dictatorship.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Friday did not mention the bill as part of next week's agenda.

Even if the House gets to the bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hasn’t indicated he’d allow a Senate vote.

Odds the Russian bill will win consideration drops lower given the upper chamber’s plan to wrap up on Wednesday with a vote on a government-funding measure.

That’s left Airey and other supporters of the bill looking toward a lame-duck session — which could be busy with other profile issues such as the extension of the Bush tax rates.

Business groups have been steadfast in their argument that U.S. businesses will lose ground in Russia without congressional action. 

“PNTR will help support U.S. economic growth and American jobs,” said David Thomas, vice president for trade policy at Business Roundtable.

Lawmakers discussed the bill on the House floor last week, with members of both parties suggesting they should find a way forward.

“There is demonstrated and widespread bipartisan support for Russian PNTR among our colleagues in the House, as well as in the Senate,” said Democratic Rep. Jim Moran (Va.).

Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) said he recognizes there "is a lot of political consternation about this because it's Russia," and because of the nation's "horrendous human rights policy."

But he called on his colleagues to move the legislation.

“To me, this is a pretty simple thing. But I recognize that some might believe that it's a reward to Russia and to Vladimir Putin, and I stand with them for all the reasons that they're opposing it,” he said. 

Congress is expected to link the trade bill with the so-called Magnitsky bill, which would punish Russian officials for their involvement in the death of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in prison after reporting government corruption in Russia.

“Our sticking our head in the sand would be just plain wrong,” Dreier said. “We need to get it done.”