William H. Cooper
Specialist in International Trade and Finance
In 1993, Russia formally applied for accession to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). In 1995, its application was taken up by the World Trade Organization (WTO), the successor organization of the GATT. Russia is the largest economy not in the WTO; after a number of fits and starts during the 18-year process, the then-153-members of the WTO, on December 16, 2011, invited Russia to join the WTO during the Ministerial Conference in Geneva. The Russian parliament must approve the conditions for accession by July 23, 2012, to complete the accession process. Russia would formally become a member 30 days later. The parliament is expected to take up the measure beginning on July 4.
The immediate policy issue for Congress will be whether to enact legislation authorizing the President to grant permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status for Russia, a status that all WTO members are required to provide each other. Some Members of Congress have indicated that they view congressional consideration of PNTR legislation as the opportunity to ensure that the conditions on which Russia is invited to join the WTO address U.S. concerns. On June 12, 2012, Sen. Max Baucus introduced a bill (S. 3285) with bipartisan co-sponsorship, the authorize PNTR for Russia.
In joining the WTO, Russia will have committed to bring its trade laws and practices into compliance with WTO rules and other market-opening measures. In doing so, it will take a major step in integrating its trading system with the rest of the world. Those commitments include
- nondiscriminatory treatment of imports of goods and services;
- reducing tariffs and binding tariff levels;
- ensuring transparency when implementing trade measures;
- limiting agriculture subsidies; enforcing intellectual property rights (IPR) of foreign holders of such rights;
- forgoing the use of local content requirements and other investment measures that limit imports; and
- opening government procurement contract opportunities to foreign firms. In joining the WTO, Russia will also commit to accepting WTO dispute settlement procedures.
Concerns among U.S. stakeholders regarding Russia’s WTO accession are not so much over whether Russia should be admitted into the WTO but rather whether the conditions for its accession are adequate to ensure that Russia fulfills its obligations and provides meaningful trade and investment opportunities for U.S. firms. U.S. IPR holders remain cautious that Russia will enforce its commitments on IPR protection. Russia is currently a relatively small U.S. trading partner. However, U.S. manufacturing, agriculture, and service providers view WTO accession as an opportunity to broaden the bilateral trading relationship. In Russia, agriculture interests and some manufacturers, such as auto producers, are concerned that WTO membership will expose them to foreign competition that will adversely affect their interests.
Date of Report: June 15, 2012
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: R42085
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