In his weekly column for the Atlantic, ASP fellow Joshua Foust discusses the benefits of normalizing trade relations with Russia following their ascension into the WTO.
The real barrier to normalizing trade relations with Russia isn’t economic, it’s political, and it’s domestic. Ever since President Obama’s proclamation of a “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations, a group of Republicans has worked to undo that Reset. While the Congressional Russophobes are vocal in their opposition to any rapprochement with Russian — they seem to prefer to believe Russia is still an adversary to be opposed (like when John McCain referred to the “old Russian Empire” during the 2008 Presidential campaign) — the reality is, recent relations with Russia have been better than in almost a decade.
Better-than-ever, however, does not mean frictionless, and there remain serious issues for Washington to work out with Moscow. Besides permanent normalized trade relations, Russia will have to take major steps to curb corruption and the capricious behavior of its officials toward western businesses (such as Rosneft’s $20 billion seizure of Shell’s gas mining operation on Sakhalin in 2006).
One important first step is Moscow’s decision to join the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Anti-Bribery Convention. Of course, Russia’s official ascension to the Convention takes place on April 17, 2012 — quite some time after the scheduled presidential elections on March 4. (Needless to say, the likely re-re-election of Vladimir Putin will probably not be very fair or free, something that will make it tougher for American politicians who want to normalize trade relations.) So there is clearly some way to go before Russia’s full inclusion as a member of the world’s economic leaders.
But Congress can take a strong position supporting Russia’s inclusion to — and constraint by — international financial and trade norms by voting to permanently normalize trade relations with Russia. It would be an important part of further ratcheting down tensions and creating common interests between Washington and Moscow, and would benefit American companies looking for new markets. It is a win-win all around.