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U.S. trade chief pledges end to Soviet-era trade restriction

The U.S. top trade official said Monday a Soviet-era amendment restricting trade with Russia could be lifted to improve bilateral ties.
MOSCOW, April 2 (RIA Novosti) - The U.S. top trade official said Monday a Soviet-era amendment restricting trade with Russia could be lifted to improve bilateral ties.

The 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which restricted trade with the former Soviet Union over human rights violations, is still in force for Russia, prompting the Kremlin to talk of the country being subject to Cold War prejudice.

Speaking to students of the Higher School of Economics, Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez, currently on a two-day visit to Moscow to discuss Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization and mutual investment, said Congress would eventually approve the removal of the amendment.

The statement echoes remarks by a senior congressman in February that the time had come to rescind the amendment.

Tom Lantos, a harsh critic of Russia's democratic record, suggested that such carry-overs from the Cold War should be left behind, and promised to do everything possible to ensure the amendment's abolition.

Lifting the amendment is also crucial given Russia's eventual accession to the global trade body.

Gutierrez highlighted intellectual property rights as a major stumbling block in accession talks with Russia, the second largest market for pirated products after China, saying it was both an economic and security issue and reaffirming Washington's commitment to fight violations in the sphere.

Moscow has signed bilateral protocols with all but four WTO members and is yet to complete multilateral talks with its trade partners within the global trade body.

It started talks with Vietnam April 1 and is expected to start bilateral negotiations with Cambodia April 4, Russia's chief WTO negotiator said Sunday.

Russia also needs to resolve a dispute with its former Soviet ally Georgia, which withdrew from the bilateral WTO agreement after Moscow banned key Georgian exports in March 2006, and to sign a protocol with Guatemala.

Russian-American trade has grown briskly in recent years, with U.S. exports to Russia growing at an average of 20 percent annually for the past three years and reaching $4.7 billion in 2006. Foreign direct investment by American companies in Russia is now estimated at $11 billion, or nearly twice as much as three years ago, and Russian at $3 billion.

Late last year, Gutierrez highlighted disturbing trends in the economy and press freedom in Russia, which he said could affect economic growth and the investment climate in the country.

He said American companies have complained of a "soft nationalization" taking place in some sectors of Russia's economy in apparent reference to a clampdown on giant hydrocarbon projects led by foreign companies over alleged environmental concerns and a series of apparent contract killings of Russian journalists.

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