U.S.-Russia Trade Relations and a Question for the Presidential Candidates

Seems that “stability” message coming out of Davos has sold fairly well to the American delegates, who have announced that Congress may vote on Russia’s trade relations this year (see story after jump). In other news, Garry Kasparov takes a moment to pose a question to the U.S. presidential candidates:

“The last opposition candidate for the March 2 Russian elections has just been forced out of the running by the Kremlin. President Putin’s handpicked successor Dmitry Medvedev has no competition. So-called engagement during the Bush years has only made the situation worse as Putin has turned my country into a police state. Hillary Clinton said recently that Putin “has no soul” and Mitt Romney referred to Putin as a dictator. John McCain has been outspoken in support of Russia’s democratic opposition. So the question is, will you pledge that as president you will work to remove un-democratic Russia from the G-8 league of great industrial democracies? Or will you continue to provide a dictator with democratic credentials?”

Actually the first thing the United States looks like they will decide is whether or not to approve Russia’s entrance into the WTO – a measure that I conditionally support.

From Reuters:

Congress May Vote on Russia Trade This YearWASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers could face a vote on trade relations with Russia this election year if Moscow finally wraps up its bid to join the World Trade Organization, the top U.S. trade official said on Tuesday.”I’d say it’s a possibility,” U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab told reporters during a press conference on the Bush administration’s 2008 legislative agenda. “I had a sense of momentum coming out of the meeting last week” with Russian Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Kudrin, Schwab said.Schwab and Kudrin met in Davos, Switzerland to discuss Russia’s roughly 14-year-old bid to join the WTO.”It was very clear, first of all, that the scope of what needs to be done is a manageable scope … (and) that the deputy prime minister … has a real focus on getting this done,” Schwab said.The Bush administration is prepared to spend as much time and energy as needed this year to help Russia join the WTO, but ultimately “the pace of Russia’s accession process is almost entirely in Russia’s hands,” Schwab said.The United States and Russia have already reached a bilateral market access pact as part of the WTO membership talks.However, Moscow is still negotiating a multilateral agreement with all WTO members covering certain other issues, including U.S. demands for stronger Russian government action to stop the piracy and counterfeiting of American goods.If a deal is reached, “we will go to the Congress and do what we need to do in terms of Jackson-Vanik,” Schwab said, referring to a Cold War-era trade provision that the United States would have to lift if Russia joins the WTO.The measure, approved in 1974, tied normal trade relations with the Soviet Union and other centrally planned economies to the rights of Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate freely.SCRUTINYRussia has been in compliance since 1994, but U.S. lawmakers have insisted that Moscow finish negotiations on joining the WTO before voting to lift the measure.As the upcoming November presidential election puts the parties’ records under high scrutiny, lawmakers may find the Russia vote difficult because of concerns that Russia has been backsliding on democratic reforms.Congress approved permanent normal trade relations with China in 2000, another election year, after a hard-fought battle. But many lawmakers now question that vote, which they blame for huge U.S. trade deficit with China.Democratic leaders also are already resisting White House pressure to approve trade deals this year with Colombia and South Korea, which face stiff opposition from labor groups.Congressional refusal to lift the Cold War measure would not block Russia from joining the WTO. But it would allow Moscow to legally deny U.S. companies from sharing in the market-opening concessions it has made to join the world trade body.”The United States would not want to be in a position where Russia is a member of the WTO and we are not providing permanent normal trade relations. That would put us in a very awkward position in terms of Russia and the WTO,” Schwab said.(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)