By: Daniel Nardini
Russia, the largest land country in the world, is interestingly enough the 11th largest economy in the world. It is also the 16th largest trading partner of the United States. If anything, Russia could become a far closer American trading partner if the United States scrapped the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the U.S. Trade Law. What is the Jackson-Vanik Amendment? It is for all due purposes a relic of the Cold War that was passed as a means of leverage by the U.S. government against the former Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. The law was co-sponsored by then U.S. Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson and U.S. House Representative Charles Vanik (ironically enough, both were Democrats). The law was passed in 1974, and was primarily used as leverage to dissuade the former Soviet Union from preventing its Jewish citizens from leaving. Officially the amendment targeted “non-market economies” that oppressed its people. What effect this part of the U.S. Trade Law had during the Cold War is still being argued today. However, this amendment was never repealed, and as such is still in force today as a measure used to punish those countries the United States deems “non-market economies.”
Under the provisions of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, those countries that may have moved to becoming market economies but still have repressive policies must be certified year after year as “improving” their human rights record. China was seen as country that went from being a non-market economy to becoming a market economy and in essence “improving its human rights record.” In the late 1990′s, the United States de-linked China from the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. The main reason why this happened was that China had joined the World Trade Organization (WTO). Because of this the Jackson-Vanik Amendment was declared “null and void” with regards to China. The same happened with Vietnam in the 2000′s. Since Russia has not joined the WTO, it is still therefore under the provisions of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. BUT, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment was created at a time when the Soviet Union existed. Russia is not the former Soviet Union, and therefore the law no longer applies. Yet it is still being applied to Russia. This year, two U.S. citizens, Edward Lozensky and Antony Salvia, have brought a lawsuit against the U.S. government making it very clear that the Jackson-Vanik Amendment as applied to Russia is unconstitutional. Edward Lozensky is a former Soviet dissident and Antony Salvia was a former aide to U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
But even if this lawsuit was not filed, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment makes no sense in its application to Russia. More than that, it is now a counter-productive law that is pushing Russia away at a time when the United States should be strengthening relations with Russia. With the rise of China as superpower number two—with both a strong military force now beginning to circle the globe and an economy that is challenging the very existence of the United States—having this out-dated law can only do harm to American interests. Russia may not be a friend at this point, but the one thing America should not be doing is making Russia an enemy. Repealing the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, as as quickly as possible, makes perfect sense from a practical standpoint.
Postscript: Presently Russia is negotiating on becoming a member of the World Trade Organization. If Russia becomes a member of the WTO, then the Jackson-Vanik Amendment can no longer be applied to Russia. Still, I would recommend highly that the United States try to improve relations with Russia.