Clinton Supports Lifting Jackson-Vanik Restraints

U.S. President Bill Clinton has issued his clearest statement yet that he will seek to exempt Russia permanently from the Jackson-Vanik amendment, one of the last remaining Cold War-era restrictions on U.S.-Russian trade.

Clinton, in a letter to the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, states that Russia no longer contravenes the criteria set out in the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the 1974 U.S. Foreign Trade Act, which places trading restrictions on nations that impede emigration.

"We will consult with Congress at an early date concerning legislation to remove Russia from application of Title IV (Jackson-Vanik)," the president wrote.

Although Washington has in recent years provided a waiver granting Most Favored Nation trading status to Moscow, Russia remains on the list of countries subject to the Jackson-Vanik amendment, and its exemption must be renewed by the administration every six months.

The waiver means the amendment has little practical effect on U.S.-Russian trade, but President Boris Yeltsin has pushed for its removal in order to create a more stable environment for investment and business.

"The Russian government has made it very clear on repeated occasions that symbolically it is very important," Peter Charow, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, said in an interview.

Removing Moscow from the Jackson-Vanik list, he said, "would be a symbol for them that, commercially, America is working in partnership, and we believe it would be a relatively low-cost way to satisfy the Russian government."

The amendment was introduced in the 1970s because of Soviet restrictions on the emigration of its citizens, but liberalization of emigration policy since the late 1980s has led to calls that the legislation as regards Russia be lifted.

"The Russian population is now in essence free to emigrate," said Charow.

"There are still a few high-profile refusenik cases outstanding, but the Russian government has demonstrated a willingness to deal with these."

The biggest remaining obstacle to lifting the restriction is the Republican majority in both houses of the U.S. Congress, which Charow said may turn the issue into a political one.

"There's a big possibility now that it will be held up," he said.

"But I think there's tremendous support in Congress for lifting Jackson-Vanik."