(CAP) The U.S. Congress in the coming months will consider whether to grant “permanent normal trade relations” with Russia as part of Russia’s pending accession to the World Trade Organization. Russian membership in the organization is a foregone conclusion, but U.S. trade relations with Russia would suffer if Congress balks at granting normal trade relations to Moscow once Russia joins the organization. Further complicating the issue is whether Congress should keep Russia on the list of nations subject to the Soviet-era Jackson-Vanik amendment—which still conditions U.S. trade on a country’s respect for freedom of emigration—or should replace it with a new piece of human rights legislation. This is why Congress and the Obama administration need to thoughtfully consider the proposed Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, a bill with bipartisan support that seeks to impose visa bans and asset freezes on human rights violators in Russia. Many of its supporters want to condition permanent normal trade relations with Russia, including its “graduation” from the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the 1974 U.S. Trade Act, on the passage of the Magnitsky bill. This urge to link the two decisions is understandable. It would be more effective, however, to consider the decisions separately but simultaneously. So let’s look at each decision in turn.
Cory Welt is the Associate Director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for American Progress.