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Russian trade limits may end

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By McClatchy Newspapers
Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 6:56 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Ending nearly 40 years of trade restrictions with Russia, the Senate voted on Thursday to approve a bill that will allow U.S. companies to expand business ties with the world's ninth-largest economy and its 140 million consumers.

The bill to grant permanent normal trade relations to Russia, which passed 92-4, now goes to President Obama, who said that he'll sign it.

Businesses lobbied hard for the legislation, saying it would allow them to cash in after Russia formally joined the World Trade Organization on Aug. 22.

American exports to Russia hit $11 billion last year. With passage of the bill, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a top advocate of the legislation, predicted they will at least double within five years.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said all U.S. businesses will benefit because Russia now will be forced to lower its tariffs and allow more imports after joining the WTO.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the trade deal “includes only concessions by Russia,” since the United States is a member of the WTO.

The bill repeals a 1974 law authored by the late Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, D-Wash., that restricted trade with the former Soviet Union because it was not allowing Jews to emigrate.

In its place, the Senate joined the House in approving the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, named in honor of a 37-year-old Russian tax lawyer who was arrested and tortured in prison for exposing the largest tax fraud in the country's history.

Besides normalizing trade with Russia, it would freeze the assets of individuals responsible for participating in Magnitsky's detention or of any others responsible for gross violations of human rights against whistle-blowers.

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