Cantwell Backs Bill to Expand Trade with Russia, Defend Human Rights

Russia Trade Legislation Passes Key Senate Committee, Would Support Increased U.S. Exports to Russia

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) voted to pass a bipartisan bill out of the Senate Finance Committee to bolster exports to Russia, while protecting human rights.

The legislation to normalize trade with Russia passed the committee on Wednesday by a unanimous vote. The Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) bill includes the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, a Cantwell-cosponsored bill that would hold violators of human rights in Russia accountable by limiting visas and blocking the assets of individuals responsible for gross violations of human rights in Russia. The Magnitsky measure also establishes a framework to go after human rights abusers in other countries as well. 

With Russia becoming a full member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) this summer, the U.S. will not be able to establish Permanent Normal Trade Relations and thus take advantage of WTO dispute-settlement mechanisms until Congress repeals the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, co-authored by Henry “Scoop” Jackson. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment prevented the U.S. from granting full trade relations with Russia until it lifted restrictions on Jewish emigration. Post-Soviet Russia has received a Presidential waiver of Jackson-Vanik every year since 1994 allowing for trade. 

At the hearing, Cantwell spoke about the role Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson played in confronting human rights abuses in the former Soviet Union and how the new legislation would live up to the legacy of the landmark Jackson-Vanik legislation.

Cantwell’s remarks as delivered:

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important mark-up. 

Expanding trade is a key component of our nation’s economic recovery strategy and it is a source of high-paying jobs in my state. 

So I’m glad we are moving forward on these important trade issues.

But I’d like to briefly mention the Russia trade bill in particular because of the connection to Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, whose seat I am proud to hold.

Not only did he have a deep compassion and concern for the well-being of his constituents, but he also dedicated to helping people on issues that went well beyond our state and our nation.

This is evident in the Jackson-Vanik amendment we are discussing today. 

Scoop did not consider America’s ideals and self-interest to be mutually exclusive, but rather he saw them as a complementary issue and self-reinforcing. 

So I think when it comes to today, this is why the Jackson-Vanik amendment was so important and why I am a strong supporter of increasing trade opportunities, I’m not ready to do that without including Jackson-Vanik in a new form.

Like my predecessor, I am concerned that some of the human rights issues in Russia that have been raised.  Like the Soviet times, incidents of politically motivated torture, abuse, and violence are all too common in Russia today. 

And reports of serious election violations in March, and the return to the Putin Presidency reminds us there are still many issues and problems to address.  

It is with these issues and concerns that I am dedicated to making sure that this Magnitsky legislation, the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, is contingent upon my vote for PNTR and moving this legislation forward. 

Russia is not a perfect trading partner.

It struggles in its protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights and is inconsistent in its application of agricultural standards that are based on science. 

However, I believe that these battles are best fought effectively through the World Trade Organization by utilizing its dispute settlement mechanisms. 

So moving forward on this legislation, Mr. Chairman, Jackson-Vanik and its new version was vital I think to moving forward this legislation.

I know that every president since 1994 has determined that Russia was in full compliance with Jackson-Vanik, so I think it’s an important tool we can continue to strive with in the form of this new legislation.

So I’m glad to support this legislation moving forward, and I think that Scoop Jackson if he were here, would be proud of the balance that we’ve achieved on this.

Thank you.