“There are a lot of human-rights problems in Russia, but we manage to have normal trade relations with a lot of countries that have poor or ambiguous human-rights records,” Barnes said. “China is a major case in point. And by any standard that I know of, Russia – for all of its faults – is an altogether more democratic country than China.”
In some states, there’s little interest in the deal.
“No one is going to get excited in Florida about trade with Russia,” with that nation accounting for less than 2 percent of all U.S. trade and ranking 44th as a destination for the state’s exports, said Jerry Haar, associate dean and director of the Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center at Florida International University’s College of Business in Miami.
“As for congressional inaction on the bill, is there any wonder given the fact that Russia continues to supply arms to Syria to perpetuate that nation’s genocide on its population and enjoys a thriving trade relationship with the terrorist state of Iran?” Haar asked. “Give me a break.”
The environmental group Friends of the Earth opposes the deal, saying the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin “must not be rewarded” for its record on the environment, trade and human rights. And U.S. steelworkers say the pact would do nothing to open the Russian market to more U.S. cars but instead would make it easier for U.S. automakers to move assembly facilities to Russia.
Backers of the deal had pushed hard to get a final vote in Congress before Russia formally joined the WTO this summer.
The pact has won support from many diverse interests, including the Obama administration and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, normally at odds on many issues. Both are touting the trade pact as a critical jobs bill.
It has cleared two trade-friendly panels on Capitol Hill: the Senate Finance Committee, controlled by Democrats, and the Republican-dominated House Ways and Means Committee.
And a bipartisan group of 15 governors – including Democrats Jerry Brown of California and Chris Gregoire of Washington and Republicans Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Nathan Deal of Georgia and Phil Bryant of Mississippi – is pushing the president and Congress to quickly approve the pact, saying it could double U.S. exports to Russia from $11 billion in 2011 to $22 billion in 2017.
Supporters say the agreement could prompt immediate payoffs in a wide swath of the U.S. economy, mainly by cutting tariffs on goods going into Russia.
In California, U.S. trade officials say, the pact would increase exports for agricultural products from grapes to almonds and lead to more foreign sales for the state’s large communications and technologies industry.
In Washington, the winners could include the state’s fruit producers, who already rank second in the nation in fruit exports, and Boeing, one of the state’s largest employers. Tariffs on pears and cherries would be cut in half by 2015. And duties on commercial airlines also would be slashed by 50 percent, providing a big help to Boeing, which predicts that Russian carriers will need 1,000 new passenger airplanes in the next two decades.
Russia is one of the fastest-growing markets for Washington state, where a report released earlier this month found that 40 percent of all jobs are now linked to international trade. And the state’s exports to Russia jumped 80 percent from 2010 to 2011 alone. In July, the Sakhalin Shipping Co. began service from the Port of Everett to help support the mining industry in the Russian Arctic.
“We forget that, other than Alaska, Washington is the nearest state to Russia,” said Sam Kaplan, president of the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle. “There are some 200,000 Russian speakers in Washington. No matter what Congress decides, it will have an impact on Washington state trade and our economy.”
Mark Powers, vice president with the Northwest Horticultural Council, based in Yakima, Wash., said Russia has great potential for fruit producers in all of the Pacific Northwest, representing a $20 million market for apples, pears and cherries in the three states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho. He said he’s disappointed with the inaction by Congress.
“Honestly, a lot of work went into the negotiations over many years,” Powers said. And now with Russia in the WTO, he said, “the rest of the world is benefitting.”
“We’re entering into a new harvest season,” he said. “We’d like to benefit.”