Our congressman Peter DeFazio from Oregon’s 4th District was one of only 43 members of the House — and the only one from Oregon — who voted last week against normalizing trade with Russia under the World Trade Organization. He is one of the few House members who made sense on this deal.
The majority voted for the change on the grounds that it would lead to more exports to Russia of U.S. goods. But that would likely be the case only if Russia was a country with well established business laws and if it abided by those laws. Instead, as DeFazio pointed out in a speech against the bill on the House floor, Russia is not that kind of country. It is an authoritarian system not unlike China, a system in which the rulers manipulate the laws the way they see fit, and mostly for their own benefit.
The bill included a provision to deny visas to — and attach any U.S. assets of — Russian officials who abuse human rights. But what good is that if the whole system is corrupt? Just last week for example, Russia expanded its definition of treason. A new law there, approved by President Putin, allows the government to punish as a traitor anyone who dissents from the official line.
Years ago, the U.S. backers hoped that normalizing trade relations with China would help drive American exports. Instead, our trade deficit with China is bigger than ever. That may not happen with Russian trade if the bill eventually clears Congress. After all, Russia is not likely to become a manufacturing powerhouse like China. Still. DeFazio sounded a lot more realistic about Russia and this legislation than most of the other members of the House. (hh)