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Obama presses for improved trade ties with Russia

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Russia has scheduled a July 4 vote on its World Trade Organization membership, meaning Congress will have 30 days to repeal the nearly 40-year-old Jackson-Vanik provision that will pave the way for permanent normal trade relations (PNTR). 

Neither leader mentioned in their remarks, a human rights bill under consideration by Congress that could be tied to PNTR legislation. 

Jackson-Vanik was designed to put pressure on communist nations for human-rights abuses and emigration policies. Since the end of the Cold War, it has been used as leverage in trade talks to win concessions from Russia and other former Soviet bloc states. 

There is a growing push from House and Senate lawmakers to attach new human-rights legislation to the repeal. 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBottom line Bottom line Bottom line MORE (D-Mont.) said last week that he backs a plan to pair legislation granting normal trade relations with Russia with the so-called Magnitsky legislation that would freeze assets and deny U.S. visas to Russian officials linked to human-rights abuses. 

The bill is named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died while in police custody. 

Russia is strongly opposed to the Magnitsky bill and has warned its passage would cool relations with the United States and could lead to retaliation. 

National Foreign Trade Council President Bill Reinsch sent a letter on Friday to all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will vote on the Magnitsky bill on Tuesday, urging panel members to oppose the legislation, saying the bill should be limited in scope to measures already taken by the Obama administration to deny visas to those involved with his death. 

But even pairing the legislation might not be enough for some lawmakers. 

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMellman: What happened after Ginsburg? Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Utah), the ranking member of the Finance panel, and seven other Republicans said last week that they are concerned the Magnitsky bill is being watered down. They told Baucus they want to see a slew of other trade and foreign policy issues with Russia addressed before the PNTR vote.

Business groups including the Business Roundtable and U.S. Chamber of Commerce argue that not moving forward granting normal trade relations will hurt only U.S. businesses and won't change anything for Russia, which, with the vote, is agreeing to accept a long list of specific terms to join the 153-member WTO. 

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanWaPo reporter says GOP has less incentive to go big on COVID-19 relief Republican frustration builds over Cabinet picks Senators call for passage of bill to cement alcohol excise tax relief MORE (R-Ohio) told The Hill last week that he helped craft many of provisions while he served as U.S. Trade Representative from May 2005 to May 2006 and, while he supports human-rights legislation, doesn't want it to derail normal trade ties.