Will Congress Welcome Russia into the WTO?

Next week trade officials representing the more than 150 members of the World Trade Organization will gather in Geneva for a ministerial meeting. Most of the agenda will be a snoozer. The Doha Round is stuck in neutral, with no compromises in sight on agricultural protection, services trade liberalization, or anti-dumping reform. But one item of business will mark a major milestone: the admission of Russia into the club of trading nations.

As I argue in a Washington Times column this morning, and in a Cato Free Trade Bulletin co-authored with Douglas Petersen and released this week, Russia’s entry into the WTO will help to bring more rule of law to the former communist nation. It will also open its market further to U.S. exports, especially civilian aircraft, heavy machinery, computer software and hardware, and beef and poultry.

Approval by WTO members is a near certainty, but what remains an open question is whether the U.S. Congress will grant Russia permanent normal trade relations (PNTR). This will determine whether U.S. companies are granted the more favorable access to Russia’s market offered to other WTO members once it joins the organization. If Congress does not grant PNTR, Russia will join the WTO anyway, but U.S. companies will be at a competitive disadvantage.

In coming weeks, Congress will have an opportunity to welcome one of the world’s largest economies into the rules-based global trading system—and benefit the struggling U.S. economy in the bargain.