Obama Should Move Quickly on Russia Trade Status, Camp Says

April 26 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration should intensify its push to grant Russia permanent normal trade relations, which would benefit U.S. companies, the Republican chairman of a House committee that oversees trade issues said.

“It’s time for the White House to get out front on this issue,” Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, head of the House Ways and Means Committee, said today in a Washington speech.

The U.S. would gain a powerful new enforcement tool by giving Russia improved status, Camp said, as it plans this year to join the World Trade Organization, an international arbiter of disputes among governments.

In order for U.S. companies to pay lower tariffs on trade with Russia, Congress must alter the so-called Jackson-Vanik amendment to 1974 trade law, which restricted trade with the former Soviet Union. Camp’s panel plans a hearing in June, giving President Barack Obama’s administration several weeks to push for improved status, he said.

Ending Jackson-Vanik is a key priority for the administration, Andrea Mead, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, said in an e-mail. USTR is pleased that the Ways and Means Committee will hold its hearing, she said.

“We look forward to working with Congress” on the issue, she said.

Normal Trade Relations

The trade agency is working with lawmakers “to discuss how terminating Jackson-Vanik, and extending permanent normal trade relations to Russia, is in the interest of American businesses, workers, farmers and ranchers,” Mead said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a Washington-based group representing business interests, and Russian officials in Washington, have been lobbying for stronger U.S.-Russia economic ties.

Lawmakers are considering linking a human-rights bill to legislation granting Russia improved trade status. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, has joined Democrats to endorse a bipartisan bill to restrict travel and financial transactions for human-rights violators in Russia.

The measure may be a part of, but not a condition of, permanent normal trade relations with Russia, Camp said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Wingfield in Washington at bwingfield3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net