Jackson-Vanik, Cold War US-Russia Trade Irritant

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 3/13/2012 04:55:00 PM
I recently visited Singapore and was given a quaint reminder of days gone by when, while checking into my hotel, I noticed a separate registration section needed to be filled by unmarried guests sharing the same room. Quibble if you will with the moralistic tone of this practice, but it's definitely not in tune with the times. In a similar vein, I came across yet another practice that seems to have been lifted from antiquity concerning the application of the Jackson-Vanik amendment against Russia which dates from the heyday of one Leonid Brezhnev.

In 1974, Senator Henry Jackson (D-WA) and Congressman Charles Vanik (D-OH) introduced the eponymous amendment which forbids the US from granting most-favoured nation (MFN) status or permanent normalized trade relations (PNTR) in American trade legalese to nations that restricted emigration of their citizens. The Soviet Union had effectively put into place severe limits on emigration to Western nations--especially its most skilled including Jewish citizens. Call it the totalitarian, zero tolerance approach to brain drain. In turn, I assume that the US found this practice to be a gross violation of human rights based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights wherein Article 13 (2) states "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country."

But that was a long time ago in a political context far, far away. While Jackson-Vanik has become an all-purpose American cudgel against Russia, the honest truth is that the Sov...I mean, Russians have long since relented on such limits to emigration. Nearly all mainstream media commentators have missed this important point that they are now "in compliance" with Jackson-Vanik. Inter alia, over a million Jews have emigrated from the USS...I mean, Russia to Israel. Nowadays, Israelis are instead complaining of integration issues arising from too much emigration from Russia:
Twenty years after Russia opened its doors to mass emigration, the number of immigrants choosing to move to Israel has stagnated. Since 1989, over one million Russians have immigrated to Israel. In the past few years, Israel has seen an average of between five and six thousand Russian immigrants per year.

Professor Eliezer Leshem, a former Hebrew University professor and current Professor Emeritus at Ariel University Center of Samaria, believes that the current cessation of immigration may have something to do with discrimination many Russians felt while being absorbed into Israeli society.
Russians have long been able to settle wherever they want--including the United States as I myself remember from my MBA days when many American classmates had Russian wives. Yet the US has found it politically expedient to continue applying Jackson-Vanik against Russia. A few months ago I relayed the much-anticipated news that Russia would at last join the WTO. The problem here with regard to Jackson-Vanik is that the WTO requires that its members extend MFN treatment to one another. Hence, the Obama administration's recognition of this basic understanding is behind its argument to lift Jackson-Vanik against Russia.

Speaking of Cold War remnants, though, it is unsurprising that it's the neoconservative wing of American politics that is most fervently opposed to removing Jackson-Vanik (which is doubly odd in that Democrats authored this legislation long ago.) For instance, that bastion of right-leaning thought the WSJ op-ed pages says a repeal of the amendment would come "From Obama With Love" by effectively approving of Vladimir Putin's suspect election victory (among other nefarious practices).

To cut a long story short, the US has only two real options here regarding Russia's membership as a Congressional Report Service report anticipated in 2005. First, the US can do what it has done for several other nations it has applied Jackson-Vanik against by granting MFN status upon WTO accession. Which is what several Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for quite some time now. Second, the US can relive the Cold War by refusing to grant PNTR status to Russia, which violates its WTO MFN commitments. The only possible workaround is for the US (and by implication Russia) to pretend the WTO doesn't exist:
[I]nvoke the "non-application principle" of the WTO. For newly acceding countries, a member of the WTO can opt out of WTO commitments with respect to the newly acceding country if it invokes the “non-application” principle [Article XIII of the Marrakesh Agreement to be precise]. If the U.S. were to invoke the non-application principle against Russia, it means that the U.S. would refuse to honor its WTO obligations to Russia. But non-application is reciprocal. So the U.S. would not have any assurance that its exporters or investors would be treated in Russia according to Russia's WTO commitments.
It would certainly have been a rather pointless process to extract all sorts of commitments from Russia to accede to the WTO only for its most influential member to ignore the fact that Russia is indeed a WTO member. But, that's world politics for you. Note however that business lobbies think it would be a daft idea not to repeal Jackson-Vanik after everything that's transpired:
The business community has also “come out in full force,” going on the Hill to make it clear Russia is a priority, said the Baucus aide. A business coalition–whose members include major groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers as well as multinationals such as Boeing Co. and General Electric Co., announced earlier this month that restoring trade relations with Russia will be the top trade priority this year.
If this is indeed what will occur, note that the only current WTO member with the dubious distinction of not being granted MFN status by the US is Moldova:
In practice, the U.S. has dropped Jackson-Vanik on all countries that have acceded to the WTO with one exception. In the cases of Albania, Bulgaria Cambodia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Jackson-Vanik was repealed prior to accession. In the cases of Mongolia, Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan it was repealed after accession, so the "non-application" principle was invoked, but eventually removed within a year or two. (In the case of Georgia, non-application was never invoked since Jackson-Vanik was removed soon enough after accession.) Only in the case of Moldova does Jackson-Vanik still apply to a country that acceded to the WTO.
Moldovans too have been freely emigrating for years, so their holdup must be for other reasons.

We'll see what happens as the US congress begins deliberations over the implications of Russian WTO membership later this week. Even Putin's opponents can agree that trade with Russia should not be curtailed via Jackson-Vanik (but rather economic ties with specific human rights offenders through separate legislation). Me? I'll be cueing up Springsteen's "Glory Days" as a backhanded salute to those poor souls who simply cannot accept that the world has moved on--in the wink of a young girl's eye.