- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Legislation that would allow normal trade relations with Russia started working its way through Congress this week, an important step before the country would be allowed to join the World Trade Organization.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, introduced a measure Monday that would repeal a Cold War-era rule requiring the U.S. president to report whether Russia allows its citizens to freely leave the country. The measure also would authorize President Bush to grant permanent normal trade relations to Russia.
House Democrats expect to introduce a similar measure this week, though with more strings attached before Russia could join the WTO. The Democratic bill would require a congressional vote on WTO membership, leading Democrats on trade policy said.
Countries that do not have permanent normal trade relations cannot enter the 145-member WTO. Congress in 2000 granted China permanent status, one step in allowing that country's accession to the international trade body.
Mr. Lugar's legislation would repeal a rule passed in 1974, known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment, that denies permanent normal trade relations to communist countries that restrict emigration rights.
"Its continuing applicability to Russia no longer makes sense in the context of the many changes that have occurred since the fall of the Soviet Union," Mr. Lugar said.
The legislative proposal followed unanimous Senate approval of the Moscow treaty, a pact to cut U.S. and Russian long-range nuclear warheads by two-thirds.
The timing of the Moscow treaty vote and introduction of the trade-related measure were meant to emphasize the strength and importance of U.S.-Russian relations ahead of a vote in the United Nations on a war with Iraq, said Andy Fisher, spokesman for Mr. Lugar.
Russia has threatened to vote against a U.S.-sponsored resolution on Iraq in the U.N. Security Council.
Russia's government sees permanent normal trade relations as an important step toward WTO membership, said Yevgueniy V. Khorishko, press secretary at the Russian Embassy in Washington.
"For a long time we have tried to convince the United States that this Jackson-Vanik amendment is a relic of the Cold War," Mr. Khorishko said.
The Bush administration also has pushed Congress to lift the amendment.
But Russia is not a shoo-in for a quick Jackson-Vanik repeal or permanent normal trade relations. Legislators have expressed concern with Russian trade restrictions, especially on poultry and pork, and a potential U.N. vote against war with Iraq.
"There are a number of different dynamics and factors, and there is a climate of concern" with Russia's political stance toward the United States, said a House source.
The potential U.N. vote is the most recent concern, but regulatory measures that block U.S. meats from the Russian market have angered American agricultural producers and lawmakers for months.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Finance Committee, said last week that the agricultural trade barriers hurt Russia's chances of gaining permanent normal trade relations.
Mr. Grassley's committee has jurisdiction over the 1974 Jackson-Vanik legislation, named for Sen. Henry Jackson, Washington Democrat, and Rep. Charles Vanik, Ohio Democrat.

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