WASHINGTON, June 21 The chairman of the U.S.
Senate's finance committee said on Thursday it was important
that Congress approve legislation by August to boost trade
relations with Russia, despite concerns over its record on human
rights and support for Syria.
"This is a one-sided deal in America's favor, but only if we
act," Max Baucus said at the start of a hearing on granting
"permanent normal trade relations" (PNTR) to America's former
Cold-War foe by lifting a 1974 provision that made favorable
U.S. tariff rates on Russian goods dependent on the right of
Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate.
"Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization this
summer will mean thousands of jobs to the United States, but
only if we pass Russian permanent normal trade relations
legislation by August," Baucus said.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the panel that the
United States would not get the full market-opening benefits of
Russia's accession to the WTO unless Congress repeals the 1974
Jackson-Vanik amendment, which he said put U.S. companies at
competitive disadvantage to other suppliers.
The amendment is inconsistent with WTO rules, which requires
that members provide each other their most favorable market
access terms on a non-conditional basis.
However, many U.S. lawmakers are loathe to lift the law
without replacing it with new legislation. Baucus repeated he
planned to incorporate a new human rights measure, the so-called
Magnitsky bill, into the PNTR legislation.
The Magnitsky bill is named for a 37-year-old
anti-corruption lawyer who worked for the equity fund Hermitage
Capital in Moscow. His 2009 death after a year in Russian jails
spooked investors and blackened Russia's image abroad.
The bill would require the United States to deny visas and
freeze the assets of Russians linked to Magnitsky's death, as
well as those of other human rights abusers in Russia.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the legislation
earlier this month, and its corresponding committee in the
Senate is expected to approve it next week.
Russia has warned the Magnitsky bill would harm U.S.-Russia
(Reporting By Doug Palmer; Editing by David Brunnstrom)