A bipartisan group of US senators introduced legislation Tuesday that would scrap a decades-old law imposing trade restrictions on Moscow, saying it's necessary as Russia joins the WTO.
Washington's former Cold War adversary has been given the green light to join the World Trade Organization, which means the Russian and US governments will need to grant each other permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) by the time the accession is complete.
Washington would need to lift a 1974 law, the Jackson-Vanik amendment, under which normal trade relations are granted to Russia only on an annual basis.
"This is an opportunity to double our exports to Russia and create thousands of jobs across every sector of the US economy, all at no cost to the US whatsoever," said Democrat Max Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee.
"Jackson-Vanik served its purpose during the Cold War, but it's a relic of another era that now stands in the way of our farmers, ranchers and businesses pursuing opportunities to grow and create jobs," he added.
Republican co-sponsor John Thune noted that presidents from both parties have been granting Russia normal trade status annually since 1992.
"It is time to establish this treatment on a permanent basis so that American farmers, manufacturers, investors, and service providers will have the ability to take full advantage of the new business opportunities resulting from Russia's entry into the WTO" later this summer, he said.
US business groups support the lifting of Jackson-Vanik, as Russian WTO membership will allow US companies to take advantage of additional market access, greater intellectual property enforcement and lower Russian agriculture subsidies.
"Passing this bill will ensure that US businesses, ranchers, farmers and workers will not be at a disadvantage in the Russian market compared to their global competitors," US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement welcoming the legislation.
US exports to Russia total about $9 billion per year, with some studies showing that the figure could double within five years after Russia earns PNTR status.
Also backing the legislation were Senator John McCain as well as John Kerry, who called on Congress to pass the new bill so that the United States is not left on the sidelines while other nations benefit from favorable treatment in the Russian market.
"We cannot afford to dither, delay, and deny ourselves the job creation and major export opportunities that come from passing PNTR," Kerry said.
Providing PNTR to Russia could be seen as merely rewarding Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been highly critical of the United States.
Eight Republican senators wrote to Baucus outlining their concern over "troubling" aspects of US-Russia ties, including Russian corruption, barriers to US exports and Moscow's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"We believe it will be necessary to satisfactorily address these and other issues if Congress is to successfully navigate a path toward granting PNTR to Russia," the senators wrote.
Baucus wrote to McCain and other senators Tuesday promising to attach to the legislation a controversial bill which proposes sanctions against Russian officials deemed to have committed human rights violations.
The legislation is strongly opposed by Russia.