Time is running out for Congress to approve a Russia trade bill before Moscow formally enters the World Trade Organization in August, potentially putting U.S. exporters at a huge disadvantage, a senior Republican lawmaker said.
Representative Kevin Brady said House Republican leaders would not schedule action on the measure until two conditions are met: a firm date for Senate action on the bill and a firm indication of how many House Democrats will vote for the bill.
Congress is set to adjourn this week for a month-long recess, while Russia is set to formally enter the WTO on August 22.
“We’re going to need those two things to move PNTR (permanent normal trade relations) this week. We’re going to need them to move it in September, and we’re going to need them to move it in a lame duck session,” Brady said, referring to different possible time frames for action on the bill.
“Lame duck” refers to the legislative session that takes place after the November election and before new members of Congress are seated in January.
“The sooner we get those two elements solidified the better,” Brady said.
Congress needs to approve PNTR to ensure that U.S. exporters share in the market-opening concessions that Russia made to join the WTO. It would establish PNTR by repealing a mostly symbolic Cold War-era restriction on trade between the two countries.
The White House has called PNTR its top legislative trade priority this year, but House Speaker John Boehner last week said President Barack Obama had not done enough to whip up Democratic support for the bill.
Both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have approved PNTR by wide bipartisan margins.
Brady said it was unclear how many Democrats in the House supported the measure and Republicans would not be able to pass the bill on their own.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Neil Stempleman)