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Business Groups Expect Sept. 12 Vote on Russia Trade Bill

08/21/12

Source: CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
Related Topics: International Trade

By Ben Weyl, CQ Staff

The House may vote on legislation to establish permanent normal trade relations with Russia shortly after returning from its August recess, according to business leaders urging support for the bill.

The House is expected to take up the legislation under suspension of the rules on Sept. 12, Dan O’Flaherty, vice president of the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), told reporters Tuesday.

An aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said he could not confirm the date of the vote. He referred to a statement last month in which Cantor said the House is prepared to vote on the measure under suspension of the rules, an expedited process that limits debate to 40 minutes and requires a two-thirds majority backing, should the Senate and president commit to support passage before the end of September.

With Russia set to join the World Trade Organization on Wednesday, the business community sees increased urgency for Congress to repeal the so-called Jackson-Vanik amendment (PL 93-618), the Cold War-era trade restrictions targeting communist countries that restricted Jewish emigration.

Until Jackson-Vanik is lifted, the United States and its companies cannot take advantage of preferential access to Russian markets that other WTO member countries will enjoy.

“The United States simply cannot afford to bypass this immediate opportunity to support the U.S. economy and American jobs,” Business Roundtable President John Engler said in a separate statement Tuesday. “Any further delay will only hurt American exporters and their workers, as America’s major competitors in Europe and Asia move to sign contracts and make deals that could disadvantage U.S. companies for months or years to come.”

Bills (HR 6156, S 3406) to terminate Jackson-Vanik breezed through the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance panels in July. The Obama administration also backs the legislation.

Lawmakers differ, however, on human rights provisions expected to be added that are named for Russian lawyer and anti-corruption activist Sergei Magnitksy, who died in police custody in 2009 after being held without trial for nearly a year and who many say was tortured. Many members of Congress say the Magnitsky case shows human rights in Russia remain a major concern.

A bill (HR 4405) approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee would sanction Russian human rights violators, while the Senate language (S 1039) is more expansive, potentially targeting violators anywhere in the world. Business leaders oppose adding the Magnitksy provisions to the trade bill, but have largely accepted that they would move in tandem to the trade bill to win support from lawmakers critical of Russia’s human rights record.

The House Rules Committee is expected to fold Magnitsky language into the Jackson-Vanik repeal bill, but which version has yet to be specified. Similarly, business advocates are not sure how the Senate would respond if the House bill is included, but they hope House passage would send the measure on a path toward enactment before the end of the year.

“If the House acts that early in September, there would be pressure on the Senate to follow suit,” NFTC President Bill Reinsch said on the conference call. “I think there will be momentum.”

Email Backers of Bill Aim for September Vote (Aug. 2)

Bills

  • HR 6156
    Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal Act of 2012
  • HR 4405
    Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012
  • S 1039
    Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012
  • S 3406
    Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012

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