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US House Approves Russia Trade, Rights Legislation

  • VOA News

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a combined bill that would upgrade U.S. trade relations with Russia, while punishing Russian officials for human rights violations.

Friday's vote of 365 to 43 is the first step in the process. The legislation must still go through a vote in the Senate and be signed by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The package approved by the House merges two bills. One would grant "permanent normal trade relations" status to Russia, repealing a Cold War-era provision, known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment, that linked favorable U.S. tariffs on Russian goods to the right of Jews in the Soviet Union to emigrate.

Congress would have to remove the trade barrier for American companies to receive all of the market benefits from Russia's recent entry into the World Trade Organization. Without the change, American business groups fear the nation will fall even further behind Europe and China in tapping into the Russian market.

The second part of the House version of the legislation would deny visas and freeze the U.S. bank assets of Russian human rights violators.

The bill is named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in jail after exposing a massive tax fraud scheme. The vote comes on the third anniversary of Magnitsky's death and is designed to target Russian officials involved in his detention, abuse or death.

Russia has called the human rights legislation "unfriendly and provocative" and warned the United States to expect a tough response if it is enacted. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich says the bill will have a negative effect on U.S.-Russia relations.

The White House favored legislation without the measure on human rights sanctions, but many U.S. lawmakers have said they would not support the trade bill without it.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.
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