By Ria Novosti
The United States Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday approved a bill combining a repeal of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and a measure aiming to punish Russian officials involved in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
“By enacting PNTR [permanent normal trade relations] together with the Magnitsky bill, we are replacing Jackson-Vanik with legislation that addresses the corruption and accountability issues that Russia confronts today,” Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus said.
The new bill is a response to the demands of a majority of lawmakers for a review of legislation affecting trade and human rights issues, including some laws affecting trade with Russia.
The proposal to add the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act to the PNTR legislation “will help fight human rights abuses in Russia,” Baucus said.
Russia will formally be a member of the WTO next month, he said, and “that is our deadline for passing PNTR.”
“There is no time to waste; America risks being left behind.”
“If we miss that deadline, American farmers, ranchers, workers and businesses will lose out to the other 154 members of the WTO that already have PNTR with Russia. American workers will lose the jobs created to China, Canada and Europe when Russia, the world’s seventh largest economy, joins the WTO and opens its market to the world,” Baucus said.
The Senate began studying the issue in mid-March and also amendments from Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, including proposals for visa sanctions against Russians allegedly involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a tax lawyer working for the Hermitage Capital investment company, who died in custody in Russia in 2009.
Magnitsky was arrested on tax evasion charges in November 2008, days after accusing police investigators of involvement in a $230-million tax refund fraud, and died after almost a year in the Matrosskaya Tishina pre-trial detention center in Moscow.
Russian investigators in turn accused Magnitsky and Hermitage of tax evasion. Last week, a group of Russian senators went to the United States to present what they claimed was new evidence of Magnitsky and Hermitage’s guilt.
A probe into his death revealed that the lawyer, who was suffering from untreated pancreatitis and a heart condition, did not receive proper medical treatment. Rights activists pointed to multiple violations of his rights during his arrest and in detention, including signs that he was beaten by prison guards hours before his death.
Russia has warned it will respond to the adoption of the Magnitsky bill in kind, imposing restrictions on U.S. officials.
The U.S. State Department issued visa bans on several dozen Russian officials in connection to the Magnitsky case in July 2011. In response, Russia has imposed travel bans on several U.S. officials.
A group of influential U.S. senators, including former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, proposed in mid-March canceling the Jackson-Vanik Amendment but simultaneously adopting the Magnitsky bill.
The Jackson-Vanik Amendment, passed in 1974, barred favorable trade relations with the Soviet Union because it would not let Jewish citizens freely emigrate. The restrictions imposed by Jackson-Vanik are often waived, but remain in place and are a thorn in the side of Russia-U.S. trade relations.
The Magnitsky case, along with the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and the rift over the Syrian crisis, is a major stumbling block in the “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations.
The Obama administration, which has been evasive about the proposed legislation, said on June 18 it considers it necessary to distinguish between the adoption of the Magnitsky blacklist and the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment.