U.S. President Barack Obama is signing legislation Friday that normalizes trade relations with Russia, while imposing sanctions on Russian officials accused of violating human rights.
The U.S. Senate passed the bill last week, about three weeks after it cleared the House of Representatives. The bill combines two separate measures into one. The first part lifts trade restrictions on Russia dating back to the Cold War era. It also normalizes trade with Moldova. The second part denies visas and freezes the U.S. bank assets of suspected Russian rights violators.
The bill is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died in jail in 2009 after exposing what he called a criminal ring of officials who stole $250 million in tax money. The legislation is designed to target Russian officials involved in Magnitsky’s detention, abuse or death.
The human rights portion of the act has drawn fierce opposition from Russia, with President Vladimir Putin describing it as “unfriendly and politicized” and promising an “appropriate response.”
On Friday, Russia’s parliament gave initial backing to a retaliatory bill that denies entry to U.S. citizens suspected of violating the rights of Russian citizens abroad. Lawmakers say they are considering naming the measure after Dima Yakovlev, a Russian boy who died after his U.S. adoptive family left him locked in a car.
While the U.S. legislation’s human rights provision has stirred controversy, views of the trade portion of the legislation are more positive. Influential business groups have urged U.S. lawmakers to normalize trade relations with Russia since Russia joined the World Trade Organization in August.
The U.S. must remove its trade barriers for American companies to receive all the market benefits from Russia’s membership. Otherwise, business groups say the U.S. will fall behind China and other nations that have already formalized trade relations with Russia, and will not be able to resolve any trade disputes at the WTO with the world’s ninth-largest economy.
Economists have predicted U.S. exports to Russia will double in five years if the barriers are lifted.