Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Bush administration officials urged a House trade panel Thursday to grant permanent normal trade relations status to Russia, which supplies only a small amount of apparel and textiles to the U.S. but has seen a growth spurt in shipments during the last year.
For several years, Russia has had normal trade status with the U.S. on a temporary basis, which allows it to benefit from preferable tariffs granted most U.S. trading partners.
A permanent designation can be granted if Congress is convinced Russia allows its citizens to readily emigrate, which apparently is occurring. However, several lawmakers cautioned PNTR shouldn’t be awarded unless a U.S.-Russian forum is created to strengthen Russia’s enforcement of worker, religious and human rights laws.
“We should reaffirm to the Russian government+that observance to human rights is an essential element in the relationship with the United States,” said Rep. Tom Lantos (D., Calif.), in testimony before the House Trade Subcommittee. Lantos, a member of the anti-Nazi underground as a teenager in his native Hungary and a Holocaust survivor, is an outspoken leader in Congress on human rights issues.
The Bush administration wants Congress to grant Russia PNTR before the President’s visit there in May.
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier told the panel President Bush is eager for U.S.-ally Russia to receive PNTR in order “to close out the history books on the Cold War.”
The World Trade Organization is considering Russia’s application for membership.
As a supplier of apparel, Russia in the last year shipped just under 1 percent of all apparel imports to the U.S. But that amount was up 31 percent year-over-year, mainly in cotton and wool categories. Textile shipments from Russia now account for 0.15 percent of all imports into the U.S. and are down 21 percent from year-ago levels.

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