Soviet-era rule splits GOP

Leading Republicans on Capitol Hill are at odds on whether Congress should repeal a Cold War trade measure that barred the Soviet Union from gaining most favored nation (MFN) status — and, critics say, continues to stymie economic growth and strain relations between Washington and Moscow.

The Jackson-Vanik amendment to the 1974 trade act targeted the Soviets for sharply limiting Jewish emigration.
Pedro Sa Da Bandeira
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) has said the Jackson-Vanik trade rule has outlived its usefulness.

Given that all countries belonging to the World Trade Organization (WTO) must grant each other MFN status, the trade measure also has made it difficult for Russia, Ukraine and other ex-communist states to join the WTO.

Foreign-policy mavens such as Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the International Relations Committee, argue that Jackson-Vanik has outlived its usefulness.

In their eyes, and those of the U.S.-Russia Business Council and authorities in Russia and Ukraine, Jackson-Vanik is a snub to ex-communist states that, most everyone agrees, have greatly improved their human-rights records since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. The United States has acknowledged as much, routinely giving the formerly communist countries yearly waivers for Jackson-Vanik.

But some senators and House members are reluctant to move quickly on Jackson-Vanik for fear of forfeiting a bargaining chip. That is particularly true at the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees, which have jurisdiction on Jackson-Vanik.

The “trade linkage” camp, as one Republican source put it, views Jackson-Vanik as a useful tool when it comes to ensuring that U.S. corporations are treated favorably in Russia or for protecting the rights of religious minorities.

“There’s definitely a split [on Capitol Hill], and I don’t think it’s ideologically Republican or Democrat,” a Senate aide explained. “There’s a split between the people who view Jackson-Vanik as an insulting relic of the Soviet era. … But on the other hand there are folks who believe that if you don’t have that Jackson-Vanik vote every year to get that MFN status you really are giving something up. You give away some leverage.”

Officials from the affected countries — including the new, pro-Western president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushenko — want the measure to be expunged, or, at least, they want their countries to be “graduated” from the restrictions, as has been the case for the ex-Soviet republics of Georgia, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and the Baltic states: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

One Republican source said that when Yushenko meets with President Bush, which could happen next month in Europe, three issues will likely top Yushenko’s list: gaining entry to the WTO, securing market-economy status from the Commerce Department and eliminating Jackson-Vanik.

“The age of Jackson-Vanik has long since ended, and the Jackson-Vanik restrictions should be lifted on what was the Soviet Union,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who led a six-member delegation to Kiev last month to oversee the presidential election in Ukraine. “Nobody claims that we live in the Soviet era, where Jews are no longer permitted to immigrate. … The fact that we haven’t taken [Jackson-Vanik] off — it either reflects incompetence or malice.”

Rohrabacher, a member of the International Relations Committee, said he would seek to force a debate in the 109th Congress on repealing Jackson-Vanik. Andy Fisher, a spokesman for Lugar, said the senator would back a bill similar to the one he sponsored in the last Congress calling for Russia’s graduation; that bill was co-sponsored by GOP Sens. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Trent Lott (Miss.).

A Republican House aide said Hyde is “strongly in favor” of repealing Jackson-Vanik for Russia and Ukraine. And a Senate aide suggested that Ukraine’s recent democratic “orange revolution” had led to a reassessment of U.S.-Ukrainian relations. “I expect that there will be a hard look at the various ways the U.S. can help Ukraine consolidate its democratic gains, and this will probably include looking at the repeal of [Jackson-Vanik],” the aide said.

Sen. Joe Biden’s (D-Del.) experience with Russian chicken bans illustrates the benefits, some say, of holding onto Jackson-Vanik. The ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, who had supported repealing the trade measure for Russia, changed his mind after Russia imposed a ban in 2002 on U.S. chicken imports. Chicken is big business in Delaware. Soon after Biden and other senators complained, Russia lifted the ban.

Mark Levin, executive director of the NCSJ (formerly known as the National Conference of Soviet Jewry), an advocacy group for Jews in the former Soviet Union, added that Ukraine has yet to return communal property such as synagogues and schools to Jewish communities in Kiev, Lviv, Dniprepetrovsk and other cities.

Referring to Ukraine’s speaker of the parliament, or Rada, Vladimir Lytvyn, Levin said: “Lytvyn made a commitment to an NCSJ [delegation] that he would introduce legislation on returning communal property, and nothing has happened.”

Sergei Korsunsky, deputy chief of mission at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, countered that a “Jewish renaissance” is taking place today in his country, encompassing 230 communities with 500 Jewish organizations and 40 Jewish newspapers. He added that 50 synagogues have been returned to Jews in Ukraine.

“Of course,” Korsunsky said, “we have sometimes, somewhere, separate cases of anti-Semitism, but this does not compare to what is going on in Europe.”