Flashing some postelection bipartisanship, House Democrats and Republicans joined forces Friday in voting overwhelmingly to end Soviet-era trade restrictions so that American manufacturers and farmers can take advantage of Russia’s expanding and more open markets.
The vote to establish permanent, normal trade relations with Russia has been a top priority of American businesses concerned that they are being left behind as Europe and China move into Russia’s market of 140 million consumers.
Russia joined the World Trade Organization in August, a move that requires it to lower tariffs and take other market-opening measures. But unless Congress voted to eliminate a 1974 trade restriction and establish permanent trade relations. The United States would be alone among 156 WTO members, unable to benefit from those new trade rules.
The legislation stalled before the election as lawmakers shied away from voting for a measure that might appear to be aiding Russia at a time when President Vladimir Putin’s government had become increasingly hostile. Many lawmakers have been mollified by the addition to the bill of a measure that punishes Russian officials involved in human-rights violations. The bill passed on a 365-43 vote.
The action came on the third anniversary of the passing of Russian lawyer and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison after allegedly being tortured. The human rights bill bears his name.