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Obama Signs Russia Trade Bill That May Be Tested in Meat Dispute

President Barack Obama signed into law legislation that repeals Cold War-era trade restrictions with Russia, amid a dispute over meat imports that may test the new relationship.

The law, passed by the Senate on Dec. 6, enables the U.S. to establish “permanent normal trade relations” with Russia, a status required for all members of the World Trade Organization, which Russia joined in August. Exporters including Caterpillar Inc. and Boeing Co. have said the stronger ties will give them improved access to the Russian market and better legal footing at the WTO should trade disputes arise.

The first test of the law may soon emerge. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Dec. 8 called on Russia to suspend a new policy requiring that U.S. pork and beef exports be tested to ensure they are free of ractopamine, a feed additive. Russia’s policy is “inconsistent with its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization,” the U.S. officials said in a statement.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Russia should follow standards set by the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, which are less stringent.

Yevgeniy Khorishko, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Washington, has said the policy isn’t retaliation for a provision in the U.S. trade law that allows the U.S. to impose financial and travel restrictions on human rights violators in Russia. Russian officials have said that measure will harm bilateral relations.

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