New Legislation Opens up Russian Trade Opportunities, But Facing Backlash

A bill overwhelmingly approved by Congress and signed by President Obama last month is expected to greatly expand export opportunities for American businesses by normalizing U.S. trade with Russia. But some fear it could also lead to strained relations between the two countries because of a provision in it that would punish Russian officials accused of committing human rights violations.

H.R. 6156, approved by the Senate in a 92-4 vote on Dec. 6, gets rid of an outdated Cold War era law called the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which linked trade relations with the former Soviet Union to the emigration of Jews and other minorities. At the same time, it would also allow the U.S. to freeze the assets of Russian human rights violators and to deny them visas.

Russia has the ninth largest economy in the world and 140 million consumers. According to a recent story by the Associated Press, economists believe the U.S. exports could double over the next five years as a result of the legislation. The move is considered particularly timely in that Russia entered the World Trade Organization on Aug. 22, which has forced it to lower tariffs, ease import restrictions and participate in dispute resolution. “Had the U.S. not passed the legislation it would have been the only member of the 157-nation WTO not able to benefit from Russia’s new status”, said the Associated Press.

Prior to signing the bill, Obama released a statement praising H.R. 6156 noting that it “will ensure that American businesses and workers are able to take full advantage of the WTO rules and market access commitments that the U.S. worked so hard to negotiate.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been hostile toward the legislation, warning that it would threaten the relationship between the two nations.

According to the news service Reuters, he called the Congress’ approval of the legislation “a purely political and unfriendly act.”

“I don’t understand why they would sacrifice U.S.-Russia relations in order to achieve some political dividends at home,” Putin said.

Written by Amy Yarbrough, Contributing Writer