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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

End of Jackson-Vanik Forecast

APU.S. Representative Tom Lantos
The U.S. congressman who chairs the House International Relations Committee pledged Wednesday to lift the Jackson-Vanik trade provision from Russia.

The provision, an amendment to the 1974 Trade Act, which made it impossible for the Soviet Union to gain preferential trade status, remains a thorn in U.S.-Russian relations.

Democratic Representative Tom Lantos' comments came amid worsening U.S.-Russian relations. They also coincide with U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley's visit to Moscow this week.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, Lantos, who in the past has called for ejecting Russia from the Group of Eight, said: "I will spare no effort to bring this about, and I have every expectation that I will be successful."

But the reality is that Lantos -- and everyone else in Washington who wants to see Jackson-Vanik done away with -- faces a big hurdle before anything can be done: An array of powerful trade interests that support the measure.

Indeed, for Congress to repeal Jackson-Vanik, legislation must be introduced in the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, neither of which Lantos has any control over.

Asked whether Senator Max Baucus, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, supported lifting Jackson-Vanik, a Senate Democratic aide said: "Chairman Baucus works closely with his colleagues in the Senate and the House and listens to their concerns and their urgings on matters of trade policy."

The aide pointed to comments Baucus made in November, when the United States and Russia concluded bilateral agreements that "in principle," the aide said, paved the way for Russian accession to the World Trade Organization.

In those remarks, Baucus raised serious concerns on Capitol Hill about intellectual property rights and "Russia's unscientific ban on U.S. beef." Baucus hails from Montana, where beef production is a major industry.

While WTO accession would normally lead to the United States lifting Jackson-Vanik from Russia -- otherwise, Washington would be in violation of the trade organization -- the aide indicated that it was not certain that that would happen in this case.

"Yes, the United States typically lifts Jackson-Vanik status when it grants a country PNTR," the aide said. (Permanent normal trade relations between the United States and Russia are required for WTO membership.) "But there are still concerns in Congress ... with Russia that are being discussed."

Today, Jackson-Vanik has mostly symbolic power, given that Congress has granted Russia yearly waivers since the Soviet collapse. But many on Capitol Hill consider it a useful bargaining chip with Russia.

A spokeswoman for Representative Sander Levin, the Democrat who chairs the Trade Subcommittee on the House Ways and Means Committee, did not return a phone call.

Ways and Means members -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- have traditionally been skeptical of "graduating" Russia, as trade officials put it, from Jackson-Vanik.

Nonetheless, Lantos' comments were warmly greeted in Moscow.

Andrew Somers, head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow, called the congressman's remarks "a colossal step forward."

Somers predicted that, with Lantos' backing, Jackson-Vanik would be lifted from Russia by late spring or early fall.

Igor Yurgens, vice president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, called Lantos' move a practical business decision and an attempt at reconciliation.

Still, Lantos' comments came as a surprise to many: The congressman is a longtime champion of civil liberties in the former Soviet Union, taking frequent swipes at President Vladimir Putin, and he was speaking less than two weeks after Putin delivered a scathing critique of U.S. foreign policy in Munich.

Saying that in his 27 years in Congress he had heard plenty of harsh rhetoric, Lantos added: "The United States and Russia have far too many common interests and long-term goals," including disease control, poverty reduction and international security. "We certainly will not allow the speech to stand in the way of our very positive attitude toward Russia and our future cooperation."

But Lantos could not restrain himself when it came to jailed former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

"I consider him a political prisoner," Lantos said. He added that the Khodorkovsky case had cast a "severe shadow" on Russia's reputation.