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 relations. (Reporting By Doug Palmer; Editing by David Brunnstrom)