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Wall Street Journal
October 17, 2001
Russia, a Willing Ally in Terror Struggle, Looks for U.S. Sympathy on Trade Issues

MOSCOW -- On a visit to Moscow, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans said the United States is "appreciative" of Russia's support for Washington's antiterrorist campaign, but gave no concrete details on when the U.S. might grant Moscow any of the items on its economic wish list.

In the weeks since Russian President Vladimir Putin took to the airwaves to tell Americans "we are with you," some business and government leaders have hoped Washington would return the favor by lowering import barriers to Russian steel, speeding Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization or aborting a Soviet-era penalty that deprives Russia and a handful of other states of automatic "most favored nation" trade status.

The commerce secretary led a delegation of American businesspeople for talks on how to boost foreign investment and local entrepreneurship. He also discussed U.S.-Russian trade relations with Economics Minister German Gref.

In an interview after the talks, Mr. Evans said the Bush administration has been building strong economic relations with Russia all along. "The spirit of cooperation started months ago in a meeting between President Bush and President Putin," he said. "Our support for economic reform that is of interest to Russia was there before September 11 and it's still there today."

After the meeting, Mr. Gref said the U.S. and Russia would increase their efforts to settle "old" problems. Among other things, Mr. Gref said he expected the U.S. to expedite recognition of Russia as a market economy, which would make it harder for the U.S. to erect antidumping measures against Russian goods.

U.S. steelmakers have successfully lobbied for barriers to Russian steel imports, saying they wouldn't be able to compete against low-cost steel producers. Wanting better ammunition to fight these barriers, a Russian steel producer this summer filed a petition with the U.S. Commerce Department requesting that Russia's status be elevated to that of a market economy. "We are considering whether or not the Russian economy can be deemed a market-based economy and that's an answer we won't have for months," Mr. Evans said.

Analysts say the Bush administration is reluctant to open U.S. markets to more Russian steel as the U.S. economy slides into recession. But Russians say it wouldn't take much effort for the U.S. to fix another problem: removing Russia from the Jackson-Vanik list, adopted by Congress in the 1970s to deprive communist nations that didn't allow emigration of free-trade status. The U.S. in recent years has required Russia to file regular petitions to be waived from the list. "Russia sees this as a relic of the past, and it would greatly improve our relations if it were removed," said Alexander Livshits, a former finance minister who now serves as deputy general director of Russian Aluminum. He added that Russia didn't want to ask directly for any economic breaks. "It would be ideal if the Americans offered it themselves."

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