Congress approves Russia trade relations bill

Congress approved legislation Friday establishing permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Russia and Moldova by a 365-43 vote, showing some ability to work in a bipartisan fashion.

“PNTR with Russia will increase exports and will help create economic growth and jobs here at home,” Michigan Republican Rep. David Camp said in a statement.

The legislation is a repeal of 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment that imposed trade restrictions on non-market, communist economies. Apart from establishing normal trade relations with Russia, the legislation holds Moscow accountable to World Trade Organization human rights standards.

“The strong bipartisan vote is an encouraging sign that the House can work together in balancing the important issues of trade and human rights,” Computer and Communications Industry Association president Ed Black said in a statement.

While the 112th Congress has been criticized for their inability to strike any kind of deal to address critical issues, they have passed trade bills with surprising ease. Trade agreements with Korea, Columbia and Panama all made it through Congress previously.

“Americans increasingly see that trade is an engine of growth and jobs. There’s also a growing recognition that when we stand still on trade, we fall behind,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Thomas J. Donohue said in a statement.

The tech community was particularly pleased with the passage of the bill, as Russia is one of the largest importers of communications technology in Europe, and has pledged to join the Information Technology Agreement, which will exclude tariffs on imported communications products.

“This step by the House is a huge step forward to open this critical market for the U.S. technology sector,” TechAmerica’s senior vice president of federal government affairs Kevin Richards said.

“Russia is an important part of global U.S. business strategy to create and sustain jobs at home by enhancing our long-term competitiveness abroad. Without Russian PNTR status, U.S. technology companies and workers will be left behind our global competitors in this growing and profitable market.”

The U.S. trade deficit with Russia currently exceeds $26 billion, with only $8.3 billion of U.S. exports.

“I urge the Senate to act quickly and pass this important bipartisan legislation so we do not lose out to our foreign competitors,” Camp added in his statement.

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