US House Approves Russia Trade and Human Rights Legislation

Posted November 16th, 2012 at 5:00 pm (UTC-5)
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The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill that would upgrade U.S. trade relations with Russia while punishing Russian officials for human rights violations.

The House passed the bill Friday by a margin of 365 to 43. It now goes to the Senate for approval.

The bill combines two separate measures into one. The first part grants “permanent normal trade relations” status to Russia. It repeals a Cold War-era law, known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which linked favorable U.S. tariffs on Russian goods to the right of Jews in the Soviet Union to emigrate.

The second part of the bill denies visas and freezes U.S. bank assets of Russian human rights violators.

The bill is named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in jail after exposing a massive tax fraud scheme. The vote comes on the third anniversary of Magnitsky's death and is designed to target Russian officials involved in his detention, abuse or death.

Russia has called the human rights legislation “unfriendly and provocative” and warned the United States to expect a tough response if it is enacted. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich says the bill will have a negative effect on U.S.-Russia relations.

The White House favored legislation without the measure on human rights sanctions, but many U.S. lawmakers have said they would not support the trade bill without it.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk welcomed Friday's vote. He says the vote puts the U.S. one step closer to the day when American businesses and workers are no longer at a disadvantage compared to their global competitors, and can enjoy the full benefits of Russian membership in the WTO.