Russia, the world’s ninth-largest economy, will open its doors to greater trade when it joins the World Trade Organization this summer. This could be a tremendous opportunity to sell more U.S. goods and services to Russia’s 142 million people. But U.S. companies won’t be able to take full advantage of Russia’s new open markets or the dispute resolution system unless Congress passes legislation establishing what’s known as Permanent Normal Trade Relations. This is the same status the United States routinely authorizes with other countries joining the WTO to ensure consistent and fair trade relations. The problem is that some believe PNTR should be withheld to pressure Russia to address human rights and foreign policy issues. Unfortunately, this approach is based on the mistaken notion that Russia would somehow be penalized if Congress fails to approve the legislation needed to promote greater U.S. trade with Russia. In reality, congressional inaction would only penalize U.S. companies and their employees by depriving them of improved access to Russia’s markets. – Douglas R. Oberhelman, Caterpillar Inc.
President Obama wants Congress to remove most restrictions on trade with Russia. Like so many of Obama’s initiatives, his latest move seems naive because Russia will get all the benefits of free trade in the U.S. market, but American companies may have to wait on Russian strongman Vladimir Putin (in photo) to remove Russia’s harrowing trade barriers. Moreover, Obama cannot ignore the importance of human rights that Americans hold dear at home and expect to see respected abroad. Business groups forever dream of huge exports to Russia. Is that realistic? Hardly. Just the other day, Putin told the world he wants vastly expanded trade with China. Obama, who wants Russia in the World Trade Organization without a quid pro quo, apparently wants to believe that the audacity of hope will turn Putin into an honest player on the world stage. – Bogdan Kipling