WASHINGTON, November 14 (RIA Novosti) – Lawmakers were scheduled Wednesday to hold a preliminary vote on lifting Cold War-era restrictions blocking US exporters’ access to lucrative Russian markets, though some say concerns about Moscow’s human rights record remain.
The House Rules Committee was due to consider legislation repealing the 1974 measure known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment and enact in its place “permanent normal trade relations” (PNTR) between the United States and Russia, which joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in August.
“All of the other 155 members of the WTO have been able to fully access Russia’s market liberalizations, including new rules related to services, science-based animal and plant health, and intellectual property protection – but US businesses cannot,” said the Coalition for US-Russia Trade, a group of more than 500 companies and business organizations that promotes competitive trade for US firms in Russia.
President Barack Obama has pushed for lifting the Jackson-Vanik legislation and the measure was expected to clear the House committee before being put to a vote of the full House of Representatives, possibly by the end of the week.
The legislation will then need to be approved by the US Senate before Obama can sign it into law.
Jackson-Vanik was originally designed to curtail trade relations with Communist countries that did not comply with US standards on human rights – and was tailored in part to address restrictions imposed by the Soviet Union on its Jewish citizens who wanted to emigrate.
The Soviet Union collapsed 21 years ago and the new Russia that emerged from it has been in compliance with US standards since then.
Kremlin critics in the United States however claim that Moscow has still not done enough to safeguard human rights in Russia. They want the new PNTR legislation to include measures that would penalize Russian officials linked to abuses that Washington would categorize as human rights violations.
Both the House version of the bill and a similar one in the Senate plan to replace Jackson-Vanik with the Magnitsky Law, named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who was held on what many believe were trumped up charges. He was allegedly tortured and then died in a Russian jail in 2009.
The law would impose US visa restrictions and asset freezes on those Russian officials deemed by Washington as being responsible for the lawyer’s death and other human rights abusers in Russia or anywhere else in the world. Obama has publicly opposed the bill.
US exporters are eager to move the Jackson-Vanik repeal forward.
“This is obviously long overdue,” said Christopher Wenk, senior director of international policy at the US Chamber of Commerce, in an interview with the Washington Post.
“The bottom line is that we under-export to Russia right now, and there is a lot of potential out there.”