Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified Thursday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance on behalf of a recently proposed bill to move Russia from the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the Trade Act of 1974, thereby establishing permanent normal trade relations with the country.
The bill was introduced last week by Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), and has already received support from various agricultural groups such as and American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Soybean Association.
"The U.S. Department of Agriculture strongly supports establishing PNTR with Russia and ensuring Russia remains one of our top export markets as it joins the World Trade Organization, Vilsack said during testimony.
Vilsack stressed that the agreement would not be a favor to Russia, rather a "significant opportunity" for American producers. He cited Russia's expanding middle class and said that the agreement would grant American trade access to the country's 140 million consumers.
Vilsack said the $1.4 billion in U.S. agricultural exports to Russia in 2011 contributed significantly to U.S. trade surplus, despite the many non-science based sanitary and phytosanitary barriers to trade, and that establishing PNTR with Russia will further enhance opportunities for U.S. agriculture.
One of the most important parts of establishing trade with Russia is that the country is now obligated to follow WTO standards.
Vilsack said that because of WTO regulations, U.S. farmers will have more predictable market access, and Russia will be obligated to follow WTO sanitary and phytosanitary measures.
Transparency in the development of trade policies is also a benefit.
"This will include requiring the notification of draft rules and opportunities for public comments on rules prior to their adoption," Vilsack said, "and Russia's compliance with its obligations will be enforceable through use of the WTO dispute settlement process."
Vilsack said exports of many agricultural products are expected to increase, including fresh and dried fruit, nuts, dairy products, and cattle.
"U.S. agriculture continues to be a bright spot in America's economy and a driving force behind export growth, job creation, and our nation's competitiveness," Vilsack said. "We need to give our farmers, ranchers, and food exporters every tool possible to keep that positive record moving forward."