Russia to join World Trade Organization
Russia’s parliament voted Tuesday to ratify the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization, capping 18 years of negotiations and wavering resolve.
President Vladimir Putin had supported the move, albeit at times unenthusiastically. As a member of the global system that is designed to ensure free trade, Russia will have to dismantle its protectionist policies, but the goal is to attract more foreign investors with the new reassurance that rules will be obeyed and not subject to bureaucratic caprices.
Membership becomes official in 30 days and will put U.S. companies at an immediate disadvantage. In 1974, a trade law amendment known as Jackson-Vanik was introduced to pressure the then-Soviet Union to allow Jews and others to emigrate, although the sanctions have been waived each year since the Soviet Union’s collapse. Once Russia joins the WTO, the amendment’s existence will put the United States in violation of the organization’s rules, resulting in unfavorable trade terms for U.S. firms doing business with Russia.
A delegation from Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, is in Washington meeting with members of Congress over moves by the Obama administration and U.S. business leaders to repeal Jackson-Vanik. One of the arguments by the Russians is that Russia and Israel today allow reciprocal visa-free travel.
But there is a proposal to tie repeal of Jackson-Vanik to passage of the Magnitsky bill, which places U.S. visa and financial sanctions on Russian officials associated with the death in pretrial detention of a whistleblower who unearthed a $230 million tax fraud, only to be charged with the crime himself.
That bill has been denounced by Russian officials, who see it as an intrusion into their domestic affairs and worry about the precedent it would set.
The Obama administration has resisted the bill but is reportedly resigned to its passage.