AAA: House, Senate Negotiators Include Armenia PNTR in Trade Bill

Armenian Assembly of America
122 C Street, NW, Suite 350
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: 202 393 3434
Fax: 202 638 4904
Email: [email protected]


October 8, 2004
CONTACT: Christine Kojoian
E-mail: [email protected]

Both Chambers Set to Vote Next

Washington, DC – One of the Armenian Assembly’s highest legislative
priorities -normalizing trade relations between the United States and
Armenia – took a major step forward today as House and Senate conferees for
a key trade measure agreed to attach legislation extending permanent normal
trade relations (PNTR) to Armenia.

“The Assembly welcomes today action to attach Armenia PNTR to the
Miscellaneous Trade and Technical Corrections Act and thanks House Ways and
Committee Chairman Bill Thomas for including it in this conference report,”
said Assembly Board of Trustees Chairman Hirair Hovnanian. “We commend him
and the Armenian Caucus Co-Chairmen Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) and Frank
Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) for their leadership and steadfast efforts to deepen the
U.S.-Armenia trade relationship.”

“The ongoing Turkish and Azeri blockades are two strikes against Armenia’s
ability to prosper as a free-market economy, so any U.S. trade benefits,
such as those resulting from the removal of the trade restrictions, are
helpful,” Hovnanian added. “It is our hope Congress will pass this
legislation at its earliest opportunity.”

PNTR, known as “permanent normal trade relations” would remove a nearly
30-year-old provision requiring Armenia and other countries to periodically
obtain presidential approval for continued access to low tariffs. In so
doing, it would signal an upgrade in Armenia’s status as a trading partner
and should lead to additional trade agreements between the United States and

Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues Co-Chairmen Joe Knollenberg (R-MI)
and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) first introduced the legislation known as H.R.
528 in February 2003, which passed the House of Representatives later that
year. The Assembly for its part, helped push the measure through by working
to secure the co-sponsorship of more than 100 lawmakers from both sides of
the political aisle.

“The PNTR bill has been an Assembly priority throughout the 108th Congress
and when enacted will be the first Armenia specific legislation passed since
the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act in 1996,” said Assembly Board of Directors
Chairman Anthony Barsamian. “The efforts of the bill’s sponsor Joe
Knollenberg, along with Reps. William Thomas and Frank Pallone, Jr. also
paved its passage. Key support from Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), the
ranking Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee was also

Last year, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) along with Senators Paul Sarbanes
(D-MD) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced S. 1557, which was modeled after
the House version of Armenia PNTR. This measure has the bipartisan support
of over 20 cosponsors.

“The Assembly thanks Senators McConnell, Sarbanes and Boxer for helping
strengthen U.S.-Armenia trade relations,” said Hovnanian. “We also greatly
appreciate Senators McConnell and Sarbanes for raising the issue and
discussing the merits of the bill during a pan-Armenian conference held by
the Assembly, AGBU and Eastern and Western Diocese of the Armenian Church.”

During that same conference, the Bush Administration made its first public
endorsement of the trade bill. Ambassador Elizabeth Jones, Assistant
Secretary of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, who delivered the
news, said “The U.S. government supports extending Permanent Normal Trade
Relations to Armenia and will support Congressional efforts to graduate
Armenia from the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the Trade Act.”

Last April, Hovnanian together with former Board of Directors Chairman Peter
Vosbikian sent a letter Congressman Philip M. Crane (R-IL), Chairman of the
House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, calling for the extension of
PNTR to Armenia and stated that the country is an increasingly important
partner for the U.S. and poised to play a pivotal role as a commercial hub.

The Assembly also designed an aggressive campaign that hinged on the support
of the Armenian community. Part of the strategy included a phone banking
session last summer in which the Assembly contacted Armenian-American
constituents across the nation, urging them to call their Members of
Congress and support Armenia PNTR.

The PTNR issue was also at the forefront of every community forum, in cities
and towns across the U.S. Assembly Board Members and staff provided
legislative updates and answered questions regarding the bill and its
benefits for Armenia. They reminded activists, for example, that although
Armenia acceded into the World Trade Organization (WTO), a 144-member
international trade body, in February 2003, the full benefits of accession
would not be realized unless PNTR was granted. (Participation in the
Geneva-based organization will offer Armenia lower trade barriers and
increased opportunity for trade.) The Assembly touted the government of
Armenia’s economic reforms which led to its entry in the WTO.

The next step in the legislative process is for the House-Senate conference
report to go the floors of both Chambers for a final vote. The Armenian
Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization
promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. It is a
501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.