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Friday, November 10, 2006

Big Win for Democrats is Big Loss for Russia

In a speech she gave at the AIPAC 2005 yearly conference, future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that "for too long, leaders from both parties haven't done enough" to struggle against Russia and China who are providing Iran with technological information on nuclear issues and missiles.
The days of "pooty-poot" and gazing longingly into the eyes of dicator Vladimir Putin are drawing to a close. The Moscow Times reports that, in light of the Democratic Party's takeover of at least one, maybe two houses of the Congress Russia can kiss its WTO dreams goodbye for the foreseeable future:

The Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday is likely to stall Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization, lawmakers from both parties said Wednesday.

Doubts voiced by U.S. officials came on the same day that Russia's top trade official, German Gref, declared the country was steadily moving closer to WTO accession.

Economic Development and Trade Minister Gref said during a visit to Beijing that Russia could wrap up its remaining bilateral agreements for accession to the WTO by year's end, Interfax reported. Agreements must still be reached with the United States, Costa Rica, Georgia and Moldova.

Gref said accession this year was "impossible," but added that Russia could join the WTO in 2007.

Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the State Duma's International Affairs Committee, echoed Gref's optimism. "I have reason to believe that the obstacles in the way of reaching agreement on WTO could be removed very soon," Kosachyov said.

But U.S. Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade, said the House's new Democratic leadership would almost certainly adopt a more protectionist approach.

"I think it would definitely make it harder," Nunes said of the Democratic leadership and Russia's WTO bid.

"I think that's a fair assumption just because of the protectionist nature of the Democrats," said Nunes, who held on to his California seat in Tuesday's vote.

Referring to the future Democratic chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Nunes said: "Charlie Rangel never votes for a trade agreement. I don't see how any trade agreement moves forward."

Representative Adam Schiff, a Democratic member of the House International Relations Committee, said Democrats "will be more skeptical in terms of Russia's accession to the WTO" unless questions about intellectual property rights are resolved.

The State Duma on Wednesday gave approval in a crucial second reading to a bill that would bolster intellectual property rights.

A Democratic staffer on the House Ways and Means Committee disputed Nunes' suggestion that Tuesday's elections, which catapulted the Democrats into the majority for the first time in 12 years, would affect Russia's WTO bid.

But the staffer did say Russia was at least a year away from joining the WTO. He said members from both parties agreed Russia had yet to resolve many issues. He also noted that after Russia reached a bilateral agreement with the United States, it would still have to hammer out multilateral agreements that apply to all member states.

While the House lacks veto power over Russia's accession to the WTO, it decides when to lift the Jackson-Vanick trade law. The law, a provision of a 1974 trade bill, barred the Soviet Union from achieving most-favored-nation trading status with the United States.

Since the 1991 Soviet collapse, the U.S. Congress has granted Russia and other former Soviet republics yearly waivers from Jackson-Vanick. But if Russia joins the WTO, Congress would also have to lift Jackson-Vanick once and for all -- otherwise, Washington would be in violation of WTO rules.

As the Democratic Ways and Means staffer explained, after the bilateral agreement is reached between the United States and Russia, the U.S. president would formally request Congress to grant Russia permanent normal trade relations. Asked whether a Democratic House would grant this status to Russia at the request of a Republican president, the staffer said it was too early to say. "I think it depends on the content of the package," he said.

Representative Sander Levin of California, who is a likely candidate to head the Trade Subcommittee in the Ways and Means Committee, could not be reached for comment. Most members of Congress were not in Washington on Wednesday, having spent election day in their home districts.

The Duma's Kosachyov conceded domestic politics in the United States could affect Russia's WTO bid. "WTO accession could be dragged down by this additional political burden," he said, referring to the Democratic takeover. The Democrats could put the brakes on deepening relations with Russia in light of concerns about civil liberties in this country, he added.

Schiff, the House International Relations Committee member, agreed. The Democrat said his party would place greater emphasis on democracy promotion in the former Soviet Union. The unsolved murders of journalists Anna Politkovskaya and Paul Klebnikov would also get more attention from Capitol Hill, he said.

Schiff also said the program to contain nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union -- known in Washington as Nunn Lugar, after the two senators, Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, who led the cause -- would be a higher priority in a Democratic-controlled House.

A former congressional staffer working on human rights in Eastern Europe said Democratic Representative Tom Lantos, who is expected to be the next International Relations Committee chairman, had stressed democracy building. Lantos, who is Jewish and spent part of World War II in a concentration camp, has welcomed Belarussian opposition leaders to his Capitol Hill office, the former staffer said.

Schiff downplayed the extent to which the Democrats' victory would alter U.S. foreign policy, given that the White House is primarily responsible for international affairs. "The effects will be modest, but they will be real," he said.

In short, LR's take is that the election result is a great thing from the point of view of U.S.-Russia policy and not really all that bad for the Republican's fortunes either. As it ended the Rumsfeld tenure, it also hopefully ended the era of "looking into the eyes of pooty-poot." Republicans like John McCain and Charles Grassley are now free to call for confrontation with the increasing horrors of Putin's Neo-Soviet Union, and will likely win significant Democratic support in this regard. On the other hand, all Republicans need to retake control of the Senate is for Joe Lieberman, ostracized by his party, to step across the aisle. It's also quite normal for there to be a loss of power in Congress in off-year elections, Clinton lost the House in his first off-year (Bush held both houses until his second, and, unlike Bush, Clinton didn't manage to go on to win reelection with a majority of the popular vote). What's more, the Democrats can hardly take much solace in electing an evangelical Christian like Heath Schuler in South Carolina, far more of a "Republican" than Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (a huge number of the newly-elected Democrats fit this bill), and they can't enact any policy over a Bush veto. Given the unpopularity of the war, its expense and its lack of tangible success, the Republican performance is really rather impressive.

There's something to be said for perspective as well: If you had to name the greatest Republican president of the Twentieth Century, a strong case could be made for handing that honor to Bill Clinton. After all, he (a) delivered the House to the Republicans for the first time in fifty years, (b) abolished federal welfare and (c) balanced the federal budget. These could easily be said to have been the top three policy objectives of Ronald Reagan when he was elected, but RR didn't achieve any of them. Clinton actually did. In other words, the Democrats seem to be happy with nominal "victories" that actually abnegate their policy agenda -- and LR is sure the Republicans can live quite happily with that.

Meanwhile, it's about freakin' time that we had a female Speaker, that can't be all bad. Maybe someday soon America will wake up and realize that if 50% of the population is female, it's probably not quite "democratic" to have less than 15% of the Congress belong to the that gender. Perhaps if the Republicans had put forth a female speaker, they wouldn't be in such trouble now!

3 comments:

17 ugly raccoons said...

Russia can kiss its WTO dreams goodbye for the foreseeable future

Good news if it will turn out as a truth. Quite a small but powerful fraction (raw exporters) pushed admission of Russia in WTO. Now they screwed up. Good.

La Russophobe said...

If both you and I agree that Russia shouldn't be in the WTO, then that must be a very powerful group indeed. Where does their power come from, other than the stupidity of George Bush?

17 ugly raccoons said...

Well, as you heard, perhaps, US gave a green light to Russia's admission to WTO, but there are some small hopes that Poland or that US lawyer Saakashvili might do something to prevent it. I think someone should poison him but not to death. Then he'll do anything. :-)

Now, to the situation. In Russia, admission to WTO is profitable for exporters of raw materials and not profitable for industry. Regarding very limited post-Soviet mobility of majority of population, closing of industrial enterprises will have dire consequences - jobless population can't migrate and will degrade (you may start to sing 'Glory, glory, hallelujah').

As you can suppose, current regime is all-out-export regime. Most of Russian nationalists and left (well, add anyone who thinks that Russia should transite from raw export economic model to re-industrialization and developing of high-technology sector) are strongly against WTO.

Where from came power of exporters? Ask Yeltsin and his cronies, great democrats and westernizers of barbaric Russia.