USDASecretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke to the Senate Committee on Financeon June 21, addressing USDA's support for an amendment that would expand trade with Russia. Here is his testimony.

 

"Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, I am pleased to appear before you today. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the benefits to U.S. agriculture of ending the application of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and authorizing permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) for Russia. The U.S. Department of Agriculture strongly supports establishing PNTR with Russia and ensuring Russia remains one of our top export markets as it joins the World Trade Organization (WTO). American agricultural exports remain a bright spot in our nation's economy, supporting more than 1 million American jobs in communities across our country.

"PNTR is not a favor to Russia. It is a significant opportunity for America’s farmers, ranchers and producers. It will provide improved, predictable access to Russia’s 140 million consumers and an expanding middle class that has grown by more than 50% in the last decade.

"By granting Russia PNTR, the United States will not provide additional market access to our domestic market for Russian agricultural imports. We will simply make permanent the market access treatment we have been extending to Russia on an annual basis since 1992. By not granting Russia PNTR, U.S. farmers, ranchers and producers will face an uneven playing field. Their competitors in the European Union, Brazil, Argentina and WTO member countries around the globe will benefit from Russia’s guaranteed tariff treatment and obligation to apply science-based sanitary and phytosanitary standards.

"U.S. agricultural exports to Russia in fiscal year 2011 were nearly $1.4 billion, contributing significantly to our agricultural trade surplus. The United States imported only $25 million of agricultural products from Russia last year. This impressive performance by U.S. exporters has been accomplished in spite of Russia’s imposition of non-science-based sanitary and phytosanitary measures and unjustified technical barriers to trade.

"Russia’s membership in the WTO means:

  • U.S. farmers and exporters will have more certain and predictable market access as a result of Russia’s commitment to avoid raising tariffs on any products above the negotiated rates and to apply non-tariff measures in a uniform and transparent manner.
  • Russia will be obligated to apply its trade regime in a manner consistent with WTO rules, including those governing sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to trade, limiting its ability to impose arbitrary measures that disrupt trade.
  • Russia will be obligated to follow detailed rules governing transparency in the development of trade policies and measures. Unlike today, this will include requiring the notification of draft rules and opportunities for public comments on rules prior to their adoption.
  • Russia’s compliance with its obligations will be enforceable through use of the WTO dispute settlement process.

"Russian consumers value the quality of U.S. food and agricultural products. While U.S. exports of meat and poultry to Russia have remained strong over the past few years, we have seen growing diversification of the products we export. In fact, in fiscal year 2011, U.S. exports of live animals, eggs and egg products, tree nuts, fresh fruits, seafood, and other consumer food products reached new records. Consumer trends in Russia are resulting in greater demand for higher-value products. For example, Russia’s packaged food market has an estimated value of $100 billion and is experiencing double-digit growth."