House lawmakers reach deal on Russia trade, rights bill
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Republican and Democrat on the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee said on Thursday they reached a deal to move forward on Russian trade legislation, including human rights provisions opposed by Moscow.
"I am pleased that we were able to gain bipartisan support for this important legislation that supports U.S. jobs and exports, and I look forward to marking it up next week," Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Republican, said in a statement with Democratic Representative Sander Levin.
Business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, want Congress to pass the trade legislation before its August recess to make sure U.S. companies share in the benefits of Russia's upcoming entry in the World Trade Organization.
Russia is the largest economy still outside the WTO and its entry is expected to help double U.S. exports to that country to about $19 billion annually over the next five years.
Representatives Kevin Brady and Jim McDermott, the top Republican and Democrat on the Ways and Means trade subcommittee, said they were joining Camp and Levin on the bill to grant "permanent normal trade relations," or PNTR, with Russia.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said more exports to Russia would mean more American jobs.
"We look forward to working with Congress to put a final bill on the president's desk as soon as possible," Kirk said in a statement.
The bill is similar to one approved unanimously on Wednesday by the Senate Finance Committee and which contains a number of provisions to put pressure on the U.S. Trade Representative's Office to ensure Russia honors its WTO commitments, they said.
"The bill we are introducing today includes important additional measures relating to the enforcement of key provisions, ranging from the protection of intellectual property rights, to barriers to U.S. exports, and Russia's compliance with its WTO commitments," Levin said.
It would exclude certain human rights provisions in the Finance Committee package because that is outside the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee.
But the four lawmakers said they would push for the "Magnitsky bill" to be added by House leaders to the PNTR package before it goes to the floor for a vote.
"As a long-time supporter of the Magnitsky legislation, I am advocating that it be paired with PNTR before a House vote," Camp said.
Russia is expected to join the World Trade Organization in August, 18 years after it first asked for membership, putting pressure on Congress to lift a Cold War-provision known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which is inconsistent with WTO rules.
If Congress does not act to terminate the provision and grant PNTR, Russia could deny U.S. exporters some of the market-opening concessions it made to join the WTO, and the United States would not be able to challenge those actions through the WTO's dispute settlement system.
Concern about Russia's commitment to human rights, democracy and the rule of law is propelling the Magnitsky bill, named after a Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died in 2009 after a year in Russian jails.
It would bar Russia officials guilty of human rights violations from traveling to the United States and freeze assets they hold in U.S. banks.
The White House had pushed for a bill free of human rights provisions to terminate Jackson-Vanik and establish "permanent normal trade relations" with Moscow.
But it appears resigned to the bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee, which included the Magnitsky provisions.
"Passage of this bill through the House and full Senate will enable the president to extend Permanent Normal Trade Relations to Russia and allow American businesses, ranchers, farmers, and workers receive the full benefit of Russia's WTO commitment," White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.