One of the last vestiges of Cold War relations is now up for reconsideration. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment, passed in 1974 in the midst of hot competition between the US and USSR, prohibits the United States from extending most favored nation (MFN) trading status to human rights violators. It was aimed specifically at the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, this legislation now threatens a budding trade agreement between the United States and Russia, although its initial target is no longer drawn by any cartographer. The Russian Federation officially joined the World Trade Organization on August 22; it is time for the United States to extend MFN to a new international partner and take full advantage of their burgeoning markets and the diplomatic benefits that free trade creates.
That being said, Russia poses a challenge to the second track of United States foreign policy – human rights – that should not be overlooked simply because there flag no longer includes a sickle and hammer. Russian President Putin has shown himself to be anything but a firmly committed democrat; Pussy Riot, a Russian punk band, was recently imprisoned for criticizing the Putin Administration; and Sergei Magnitsky, an Russian attorney of Jewish descent, was imprisoned and died from an untreated illness in 2008 after allegedly “colluding” with a British firm – which he represented in open court – that had been critical of Russian state-owned enterprises. These actions, as well as others, are rightly unacceptable to freedom loving Americans.
When Congress reconvenes, certain options are available to them. One is to continue to allow Jackson-Vanik to apply to Russia while looking the other way on Chinese human rights abuses that often time pale their Russian counterparts. This might make for good politics, but an alternative path seems far more sensible.
The United States Congress should repeal Jackson-Vanik and pass Permanent Normalized Trade Relations (PNTR) with the Russian Federation, proposed by Senator John Thune (R-SD), and also pass the Sergei Magnitsky Act, sponsored by Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), which calls for sanctions on those enterprises responsible for the imprisonment and death of Mr. Magnitsky.
By taking this course, the United States succeeds on three fronts..