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Senate to take up bill normalizing Russia trade

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 5, 2012 at 3:15 pm •  Published: December 5, 2012

Normalizing trade, said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. "is a big win for Americans. If Congress does not act, American workers, including millions employed by small businesses, stand to lose out to foreign competitors." But normal trade alone, he said, "will not suffice when dealing with a country that continues to protect corrupt officials."

The House barred Russian human rights violators from receiving visas and froze their U.S.-based financial assets. In the Senate version, the measure applied to human rights violators around the world.

The logjam was broken when Ben Cardin, D-Md., who authored the Senate version, said he would accept the House approach so that the bill can be passed. "This bill may only apply to Russia, but it sets a standard that should be applied globally," Cardin said in a statement. "I encourage other nations to follow our lead."

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last week said that while his government welcomed the normalizing of trade, "we absolutely dislike its link with another legislation." He said Congress, in attaching the human rights provision, was "making a big mistake" and that Russia would respond.

The human rights provision is named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and whistle-blower who died in a Russian prison three years ago after allegedly being tortured.

The Moscow government has voiced strong opposition to the Magnitsky language, saying it would increase tensions between the two countries and hinting at retaliation.

The trade bill eliminates the Jackson-Vanik amendment to a 1974 trade bill that tied trade with the Soviet Union to greater freedom for Jews and other Soviet minorities to emigrate.

Although the amendment has long outlived its purpose and is now annually waived by presidents, it has never been removed from the books, preventing the establishment of permanent normal trade relations.