The U.S. Senate has moved closer toward ending a Cold War-era restriction on trade with Russia, although some Senators say they are not ready to back normal trade ties with Moscow just yet. The development comes on the eve of President Bush's visit to Russia.
The Senate Wednesday approved a non-binding resolution calling for the United States to establish permanent normal trade relations with Russia in what it calls "an appropriate and timely fashion".
The measure, which does not have the force of law, was passed by voice vote during debate on a sweeping trade bill.
But one key Senator says he does not want the so-called 'Jackson-Vanik' trade restrictions waived until Russia fully lifts a ban on U.S. poultry imports.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden of the poultry-producing state of Delaware, says Russian import licensing requirements have had the effect of maintaining the import ban even though Russian officials say it has been lifted.
"Before I can support taking any steps in any form to lift trade limits on Russia, I want to make sure they have their act in order, and make sure Russia's commitment to fair and open trade and the rule of law is in the works," he said.
Russia, which imported $640 million worth of U.S. poultry products last year, banned imports for a month earlier this year, citing health concerns about antibiotics in feed and salmonella. The ban came shortly after the United States imposed tariffs on foreign steel, including Russian shipments.
Meanwhile, another Senate Democrat, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, says he opposes lifting Jackson-Vanik until Russia reaches agreement with the United States on the terms of its entry into the World Trade Organization.
Congress passed Jackson-Vanik in 1974. The measure requires Moscow to demonstrate that it allows Russian Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate freely to qualify for normal trade relations.
The issue is mostly symbolic, since Russia has been found to be in compliance with Jackson-Vanik since 1994 - a point underscored by the resolution's sponsor, Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas.
"Jackson-Vanick addresses the issue of whether you allow free immigration of religious minorities, particularly Jews, out of the former Soviet Union," he said. "That is what the particular bill was directed towards. That is taking place. There is no question that is taking place in Russia."
But the fact that the Congress has yet to remove Russia from Jackson-Vanik has angered Moscow. President Bush had asked lawmakers to free Russia from the provision before his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.