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An Embrace and a Slap: Congress Votes to Normalize Trade With Russia—and Slap It on the Wrist

Author: Anya Schmemann, Director of the Independent Task Force Program
December 6, 2012
Council on Foreign Relations


This is a guest post by Anya Schmemann on the blog, The Water's Edge.

The U.S. Senate today approved a bill to normalize trade relations with Russia. The House voted overwhelmingly for it last month, and President Obama is expected to sign it into law. The move will allow U.S. companies to benefit from Russia's recent entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, the bill also includes a provision that penalizes Russian human rights violators—a move that infuriates Moscow, which has promised to strike back. I asked my colleague Anya Schmemann, who follows Russian issues, to explain the double-edged bill. Here's what she had to say:

Congressional approval to grant permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Russia and lift a dated Cold War-era restriction on trade is a positive step in U.S.-Russian relations. It has been warmly applauded by U.S. companies, who are eager to reap benefits from Russia's recent entry into the WTO.

But the good news—an embrace of improved trade relations—comes with a slap, since the bill also includes a "name and shame" provision to penalize human rights abusers in Russia.

In a show of bipartisanship, the House voted 365-43 and the Senate voted 94-2 for the combined legislation, which ends the four-decade-old Jackson-Vanik amendment that linked trade to the Soviet Union's restrictions on Jewish emigration. Those limits were lifted even before the Soviet Union collapsed, but Congress let the amendment stay on the books for two more decades.

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