White House Wants End to Jackson-Vanik

As final preparations are being made for the summit later this month between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, the U.S. administration is indicating that it wants the annual review of Russia's emigration policies under the Jackson-Vanik amendment eliminated and for Russia to be granted permanent normal trade relations.

"The State Department has started to consult with Congress and interested groups on the possibility of graduating Russia [from the amendment]," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said at press briefing Friday.

Although it doesn't hinder Russia's trade, Russians view the amendment as a symbol of outdated, Cold War relations, and its elimination has landed on the list of things the United States could do to repay Russia for its cooperation in the war on terrorism.

But Russia should not expect any major changes any time soon. Congress, which is ultimately responsible for any alterations to Russia's trade status, has no plans to do so, according to the Congressional committees that deal with the issue. And any effort could face logistical hurdles and opposition from lobbying groups and members of Congress who are concerned about human rights abuses in Russia, said Senate and House staff members, speaking on background.

"There has been no exploration of Jackson-Vanik," said Barbara Clay, a spokeswoman for the House Ways and Means Committee. "We have not had contact with the administration. ... We do not have a time frame for dealing with Russia getting permanently removed."

The Jackson-Vanik Amendment of the Trade Act of 1974 was a reaction to the severe restrictions the Soviet Union had placed on emigration in 1972. The main intention was to punish the Soviet government for blocking the exodus of Soviet Jews, but the amendment was expanded in its scope to apply to all "nonmarket economy" countries.

Since the early 1990s, Russia has been granted normal trade relations through presidential waivers. In order for Russia to receive such a waiver, its emigration policies must pass an annual review according to standards in the amendment. Although it is continually granted the right to conduct normal trade with the United States, Russia resents the review process and wants its normal trade relations to be permanent.

Federation Council member Mikhail Margelov raised the subject with members of Congress at meetings in Washington in July and October and said he received positive feedback.

"I had a number of important meetings with members of the House of Representatives and the Senate," Margelov said in a written response to questions. "At them I raised the question of possibly canceling the Jackson-Vanik amendment for Russia. This idea was supported by a number of influential congressmen and the joint statement that we signed based on the results of the first meeting of the Federation Council-Senate working group included a clause stating that both parties recognize the need to revise legislation with the object of exposing the rudiments of the Cold War. I am certain that the issue of the Jackson-Vanik amendment will be raised on many occasions in the future and am optimistic that this issue will be resolved."

For Russia to be free of the annual review of its emigration policies, Congress would have to graduate it from Jackson-Vanik through legislation.

So far, Congress has signaled no interest in taking up the matter. It has scheduled no hearings on the topic and produced no bills. According to Clay, Congress normally does not graduate countries until they are accepted into the World Trade Organization.

Any legislation would be likely to face opposition from anti-Russian lobbying groups in the United States, which focus on human rights, and lingering suspicion of Russia in Congress.

"In order to change this you need the political will," said Celeste A. Wallander, director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for International Security and Strategic Studies in Washington. "You'd have to take the law off the books, which would make it look like a reward for Russia. At a time when the United States is still concerned with Chechnya, no one will get up and argue that we need to overturn it."

The political will from the administration is surfacing. "Our commitment to human rights has not changed," an unidentified State Department representative said in a statement. "We continue to raise our concerns about human rights observances around the world. We believe, however, that it is time to move beyond the Cold War era."