Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual
news conference in Moscow. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
President Barack Obama today formally granted "permanent
normal trade relations" to Russia, following congressional
action that cleared the way for him to remove a Cold War-era
vestige on trade but also raised tensions with Moscow.
"The Russian Federation has been found to be in full
compliance with the freedom of emigration requirement" under
the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, Obama said in a
That provision had tied favorable US tariffs rates to the
rights of Jews in the former Soviet Union to emigrate freely.
The House of Representatives and the Senate overwhelmingly
passed legislation allowing Obama to grant permanent normal
trade relations, or PNTR, to Russia in order to ensure that
US companies share the full benefits of Russia's recent entry
in the World Trade Organization.
But Congress tied the PNTR bill to legislation that punishes
Russian human rights violators by barring them from visiting
the United States and freezing any assets they have in US
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday harshly
criticized the human rights measure, named for Sergei
Magnitsky, a Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died in 2009
in a Russian jail.
"This is very bad. This, of course, poisons our
relationship," Putin told his annual news conference.
Putin said he backed tit-for-tat legislation approved by
Russia's lower house of parliament to prevent Americans from
adopting Russian children and bar entry to US citizens
accused of abusing Russians' rights.
The chilly atmosphere notwithstanding, Obama's proclamation
permits Russia and the United States to establish WTO
relations in Geneva. Jackson-Vanik, which was still on the
books when Russia joined the WTO in August, had delayed that
"We can now move to apply the WTO Agreement between the
United States and Russia, giving the United States the
benefits of Russia's WTO commitments and the tools to enforce
them," US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement.
Assuming WTO relations are set up quickly, the United States
and Russia could file complaints against each other in the
Earlier in December, Russia banned imports of meat containing
any trace of ractopamine, a feed additive widely used in the
United States to make meat leaner.
Kirk and US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have pushed
Russia to lift the ban because they say it appears to violate
Russia's WTO commitments.
The United Nation's food agency in July said ractopamine "had
no impact on human health" if residues stay within
Meanwhile, Edward Verona, president of the US-Russia Business
Council, warned in the group's latest newsletter that Russia
could file a WTO complaint against US anti-dumping and
countervailing duties on Russian steel.
Obama also established PNTR for Moldova, a former Soviet
republic that joined the WTO in 2001. Congress had neglected
to pass authorizing legislation for the past decade, but
finally attended to the issue in the Russia PNTR bill.