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Magnitsky Act vs. Jackson-Vanik

The FT weighs in today on the debate over the Magnitsky Act, which would ban Russian officials implicated in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky from entering the U.S.  From Western journalists to Russian journalists to Vladimir Putin, the common line on the Act has been that the U.S. must ensure that no links are made between signing the Magnitsky Act into law and repealing the Jackson-Vanik amendment.

In order to comply with WTO rules, the US has to scrap the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law, which linked the Soviet Union’s trade access to human rights benchmarks, notably its treatment of Jewish “refuseniks”. The law lost its purpose after the USSR’s collapse in 1991.

The Magnitsky Act should not be considered as a continuation or renewal of this previous human rights amendment, a) because the latter act stands up on its own merit, and b) because, as one commentator put it, ‘[p]resenting this graduation from JVA to Russia as a carrot that has to be supplemented by a stick in the form of the Magnitsky Act is just too cynical for words‘.  Although Jackson-Vanik was a Democrat’s idea, the desire to see the Magnitsky Act as a continuation of its work is a Republican angle, likely spurred by knowledge of the fact that the original act is ‘a Cold War relic that infuriated the Kremlin‘. Despite the wrangling, the FT is optimistic about the act’s potential to ‘become a useful tool in the US diplomatic arsenal‘:

US lawmakers are reluctant to be seen voting in favour of a trade bill so close to an election. Thus, over the state department’s objections, a bipartisan group has hitched its legislative wagon to the Magnitsky bill, which no lawmaker would be embarrassed to support. Nor should they be. But it is important that Congress endorse each measure separately. Russia’s WTO entry is in the US’s interest – and the largest US business groups are lobbying for approval. The bill should not be formally linked to an unrelated human rights measure. In practice this should be solvable.