House Votes to Increase Trade With Russia

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WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives on Friday voted to take a step toward normalizing trade relations with Russia, sweeping away one of the last vestiges of cold war-era policy.

The final tally was 365 to 43, an unusually large margin for a body that seldom agrees to do anything in a bipartisan fashion.

But that is likely to change once the Senate takes up the bill. Congressional officials say they expect it to pass there after some unresolved issues are ironed out.

A major factor in the trade bill's easy approval -- and a sore spot with the Russians -- was that while the House extended one hand, it slapped President Vladimir V. Putin and his government with the other.

Attached to the trade legislation was a provision that seeks to punish Russians who are guilty of violating human rights. The so-called Sergei Magnitsky amendment, named for a Russian lawyer who was arrested and died in prison after investigating government corruption, would allow the United States to deny visas and freeze assets of Russian officials who are deemed abusers.

Bill Browder, an investor who employed Mr. Magnitsky in Russia before his death and fought to get the bill passed, said the House's action would send a strong signal to Mr. Putin and his administration.

"They may be able to act with impunity at home, but they won't be able to act with impunity elsewhere," Mr. Browder said.

As the House debated the bill on Friday, Republicans and Democrats alike sounded at once diplomatic and stern.

Some experts estimate that the eased trade restrictions could ultimately double the amount of American exports flowing to Russia, the world's 9th largest economy, to $19 billion.

"This legislation is not a handout or a gift to Russia," said Representative Wally Herger, a Republican from California. "A vote against this bill is a vote against U.S. employers. It's a vote against small businesses. It's a vote against farmers and a vote against ranchers."

Officially, Russia remains on a list of former communist nations that were denied favored trade status in 1973 because they refused to allow their citizens to leave freely.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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