Jackson-Vanik amendment - pragmatism prevails


MOSCOW. (Oleg Mityayev for RIA Novosti) At a news conference in Moscow on February 21, Tom Lantos, a Democratic majority representative in the U.S. Congress, made a sensational statement.

He said it was high time to exempt Russia from the provision of the Jackson-Vanik amendment. The head of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, who has never expressed particular sympathy for Russia, added that he was completely confident that it would be cancelled in the near future.

The authors of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment – Congressmen-Democrats Henry Jackson and Charles Vanik – responded to the Soviet authorities’ decision to compel citizens who wanted to emigrate to pay compensation for the education they had received in the U.S.S.R.. The sum was so large that very few could afford to pay it then. The Soviet government was primarily targeting Jews who were going to leave for Israel.

In its time, this amendment fundamentally changed U.S. trade relations with the communist countries, or, to use the American term, countries with non-market economies. In practice, it limited supplies of high-tech equipment, including latest computers, to these countries, which inflicted heavy damage on American exporters. The Soviet Union got round these restrictions by buying hardware through third countries, but had to pay through the nose.

During the liberal political and economic reforms of the 1980’s the amendment largely became obsolete, and after the Soviet Union’s disintegration it turned into a total archaism. The U.S. Congress has not yet exempted Russia from this provision, although it no longer applies to its biggest trade partner China and some post-Soviet countries like Georgia, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine. In reality, the notorious amendment is not used against this country, either. Since the 1990s, U.S. presidents have continuously suspended its term for one year to trade with Russia on normal terms.

Much has been said about the need to scrap this amendment by Congress decision once and for all. The U.S. has acknowledged that Russia has a market economy. When presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin agreed on Russia’s World Trade Organization (WTO) entry last December, it became clear that the amendment would soon cease to exist. Russia’s WTO entry binds the U.S. to grant it, as any other WTO member, permanent normal trade relations. This is what the U.S. Congressman said in Moscow. Lantos explained that revoking the amendment would facilitate Russia’s WTO entry.

There are grounds to say that the amendment’s fate was preordained when the U.S. and Russia signed a bilateral WTO protocol at the end of 2006. Otherwise, it would be absolutely pointless for Russia to enter the WTO. The amendment allows the Americans to engage in discrimination, for instance, to introduce excessive anti-dumping duties. In the meantime, the WTO membership means equal treatment for all participants.

Now Russia is engaged in technicalities of the WTO entry. It will take months to put everything right, and at best our government will achieve the desired objective by the end of this year. One of the necessary steps on Russia’s road to the WTO will be the cancellation of the archaic amendment.

There is one more positive point in Lantos’s “surprise” statement. He made it soon after Vladimir Putin delivered his speech in Munich, which some shortsighted Western observers perceived as a declaration of a new cold war. This statement by the U.S. Congressman shows that, on the contrary, the Western pragmatists want to leave behind the phobias and superstitions of a cold war.

Lantos summed up that despite all the problems which are periodically encountered, he expected constructive, growing and invariably positive cooperation between Russia and the U.S.

Oleg Mityayev is a commentator with Izvestia, a popular Russian daily.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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