Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with Russia is the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) top trade priority this year, said the organization in a statement to Congress. AFBF submitted testimony to the Senate Finance Committee for its hearing looking at extending PNTR for Russia.

Long negotiations on Russia joining the World Trade Organization resulted in the country being able to enact many trade-related reforms. Russia is expected to complete the adoption of the measures and formally join the WTO this July. But, PNTR for Russia must be enacted by Congress in order to guarantee U.S. access to the market opening and legal aspects that are part of the Russia-WTO agreement.

U.S pork exports to Russia grew to 69,650 tons in 2011, 15 percent over 2010 levels, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation. The value total equated to $215 million which was up 26 percent over 2010 levels. However, since 2008, pork exports to Russia have fallen by 60 percent because of restrictions based on non-science-based sanitary-phytosanitary issues. Russia is the sixth largest importer of U.S. pork.

The U.S. pork industry has concerns about a number of matters related to Russia’s WTO accession package, primarily related to non-science-based barriers that have severely affected U.S. pork exports to Russia, according to the National Pork Producers Council. Expressing the concerns of the pork industry last week was, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who urged the White House to ensure that Russia lives up to the spirit and responsibilities of the WTO with regard to agriculture and particularly pork.

Russia has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, thanks to high world energy prices and Russia’s status as the world’s largest energy exporter. Within recent years, consumer demand has increased faster than the economy as a whole, driving high rates of import growth. Russia is one of the leading export markets for U.S. poultry.

“Russia PNTR is a critical step towards ensuring the U.S. benefits from Russia’s accession to the WTO and remains competitive in that market,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “U.S. farmers will have more certain and predictable market access as a result of Russia’s commitment not to raise tariffs on any products above the negotiated rates and to apply international food safety standards in a uniform and transparent manner.”

Russia has a strong capacity for growth in food imports from the United States. U.S agricultural exports to Russia are forecast at $1.4 billion for 2012. Russia has potential for significant increases in poultry, pork and beef consumption, which were the top U.S. agricultural exports to the country in 2011.

“With this potential for expanding meat exports, obtaining PNTR with Russia is even more important,” said Stallman. “Russia’s membership in the WTO will provide significant commercial opportunities for U.S. agriculture.”

With a large and growing economy, Russia has demonstrated strong potential as a growing market for U.S. exports, according to the Coalition for U.S.-Russia trade.

Total U.S. exports to Russia grew 11 percent in 2010 to reach a total of nearly $6 billion. In 2011, exports to Russia are on pace to nearly match their pre-recession high of $9 billion, recorded in 2008.