For a fleeting moment in early June, it looked as though Russia's 16 years of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations were nearing a successful conclusion. After talks on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton told forum attendants that the country's WTO accession should be completed by the end of the year. Russia's chief WTO negotiator Maxim Medvedkov echoed her optimism, saying this was "a good window of opportunity" to join the organization.
In the days that followed, some experts began looking forward to the nullification of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment with respect to Russia. The amendment, a provision of the Trade Act of 1974, conditions preferential U.S. trade relations with 10 communist or former communist countries on their adherence to certain free-emigration requirements. Though crafted during the Cold War to put pressure on the Soviet Union regarding emigration rights for Soviet Jewry, the legislation has since become a means for Congress to express disapproval with Russia's record on trade, human rights, and foreign policy by withholding graduation from the amendment's jurisdiction. Many experts assert this leverage is largely imagined and that the amendment irks the Kremlin without benefiting the United States.
In either case, since 1994, Russia has been deemed compliant with the amendment's free-emigration requirement, so Jackson-Vanik has no official effect on bilateral trade. Under conditional normal trade relations, countries enjoy the same preferential tariff rates and other financial perks that come with permanent normal trade relations. Nonetheless, WTO accession for Moscow would force the United States to choose between graduating Russia from Jackson-Vanik and giving up the benefits of the WTO relationship, since the organization requires member states to establish permanent normal trade relations with each other.