When Russia officially joins the World Trade Organization later this year, it will become the next big trading partner of the U.S., but the nearly 40-year-old Jackson-Vanik amendment may stand in the way if Congress fails to act.
Jackson-Vanik, passed in 1974, allows the United States to deny trade benefits to nonmarket economies that refuse to let Jewish residents emigrate. When the law was passed, Congress was looking for a way to coerce communist countries into compliance with international norms. The sanctions were aimed at forcing the Soviet Union and China to open their borders. The U.S. has deemed Russia in compliance with the law since 1992 and has granted the former adversary conditional normal trade relations.
Some lawmakers argue that Jackson-Vanik is one of the few remaining tools that gives the U.S. leverage to push Moscow on broader, geopolitical issues. But Russian scholars and business leaders say that leverage evaporated a long time ago.
Nearly 200 of the most powerful U.S. business associations and companies, including the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Ford, and Citigroup, have been lobbying Congress heavily to repeal the amendment. Obama and many lawmakers support repeal, but election-year politics make it unlikely that Congress will consider the amendment before November.