A Relic of the Cold War: The Jackson-Vanik Amendment


 A Relic of the Cold War:  The Jackson-Vanik Amendment

By Robert J. Guttman


Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington passed away in 1983; Congressman Charles Vanik from Ohio passed away in 2007 and the Soviet Union dissolved in December, 1991.

The question has to be asked in 2013 : Why in the world does an amendment passed into law in the 1970s still remain on the books when there is no more Soviet Union?

The law, which denied normal trade relations to certain countries with non-market economies that restricted freedom of emigration from the Soviet Union, was passed by Jackson and Vanik and their congressional colleagues to help minorities, specifically Jews, to emigrate from the former USSR.

The amendment, after a few years, did work and more Jews and other minorities emigrated in larger numbers from the former Soviet Union.

However, as everyone knows, the Soviet Union, is long gone and in the dustbin of history.   Why have a law that applied to the USSR still apply to other countries today?  It really makes little or no sense.

“Replacing Jackson-Vanik, a law that is meant to penalize a country (the Soviet Union) and an economic system (state socialism) that no longer exist for a practice (limiting the rights of Jews to emigrate) that also no longer exists, ought to be a complete no-brainer.  Jackson-Vanik is, by this point in time, an entirely outdated and useless piece of legislation, an irrelevant anachronism that serves no purpose. . .” states Mark Adomanis in a recent article in Forbes Magazine entitled “It’s Time to End the Jackson-Vanik Amendment”.

Adomanis goes on to say “Jackson-Vanik is a self-evidently absurd law: if we’re going to keep it on the books we might as well have sanctions against Italy for its cruel occupation of Abyssinia or Japan for its misbehavior in Manchukuo.  It is worth emphasizing again, that Jackson-Vanik is designed to remedy a malady that no longer exists.

While Jackson-Vanik is a Cold War relic it still is on the books and today it affects some of the countries that were part of the Soviet Union.  And, these countries do not deserve the criticism and stigma of this outdated law.

“Congress has already extended MFN (most favored nation) treatment (repeal of Jackson-Vanik) to twelve countries, leaving Kazakhstan and six other countries who must contend with this relic of the Cold War and irritant in the respective bilateral relationships.”

In Kazakhstan, for example, the Chief Rabbi Yeshaya E. Cohen, on a visit to Washington, D.C. stated, “I can confidently say that the Republic of Kazakhstan can well serve as an authentic model to all countries with regard to preventing and eliminating anti-Semitism and terrorism.  I appreciate that Jackson-Vanik is not about religious freedom, but it was prompted by a concern over discriminatory treatment of a religious sect that was all too common during that era.”

The Chief Rabbi of Kazakhstan continues, “I believe that Kazakhstan should be properly recognized and honored for its commitment to religious harmony and urge that Congress promptly act to remove this onerous relic of the Cold War approving legislation to repeal the Jackson-Vanik Amendment.”

Many American firms would like to see the repeal of Jackson-Vanik.  The U.S. Department of Commerce would like to see the amendment repealed.  Vice-President Biden has spoken out against the amendment.  Many members of the House and Senate have called for the amendment’s repeal and taking it completely off the books.

Kazakhstan, which is planning on entering the World Trade Organization (WTO) this year would like to receive Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) from the United States.  Right now, Congress waives Jackson-Vanik for Kazakhstan and other nations on an annual basis.  So, by this action Jackson-Vanik really has no bearing other than being an irritant that is detrimental to United States’ trade relations with Kazakhstan and other countries.

Kazakhstan has huge American investment from leading Fortune 500 firms  Chevron, Halliburton , Boeing , General Electric and John Deere.  Kazakhstan creates jobs for Americans in their country and also creates jobs in the United States.

Jackson-Vanik gives out the wrong message to the world.  It is in the interest of American business firms to remove this Cold War relic amendment.

So, while Kazakhstan and other nations receive annual waivers from the Jackson-Vanik Amendment only Congress can repeal this outdated and rather meaningless piece of legislation.

“The law clearly allows the President to determine that a country is in full compliance and can waive the MFN provision on an annual basis, but only Congress may repeal the Jackson-Vanik provision outright.”

“Virtually all former Soviet Republics . . .allow freedom of emigration and comply fully with the Jackson-Vanik provision, prompting the President to annually certify to the Congress that they are in full compliance and issue a waiver to extend MFN treatment.”

Jackson-Vanik is  typical of how legislation can be passed by Congress for one specific reason and when that reason has long ago gone away stays on the books for no apparent purpose other than inertia or lack of interest by the current Congress to get rid of a Cold War piece of legislation.

Some member of Congress may see this as their way of promoting freedom in the world but it is the wrong way to promote democracy and human rights as this is an amendment that was passed against a country that no longer exists.

Countries like Kazakhstan have good reason to be upset by this amendment that is consistently waived annually as the President and Congress find every year that they have a good human rights record and excellent relations with the United States.

“Since 1993, the U.S. and Kazakhstan have had a Bilateral Trade Agreement that grants reciprocal, normal trade relations treatment, a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) and the two countries currently are in the final stages of negotiating a trade agreement pursuant to WTO accession” of Kazakhstan this year.

As a former Hill staffer who worked for both the House and Senate and also as an international economist and international trade specialist for the U.S .Department of Commerce, I am not surprised that legislation that should be gone stays on the books.

But, rather than being a minor irritant it disrupts international trade and upsets countries that did not exist at the time of the legislation, who are now strong allies, trade and investment partners and countries respecting human rights like Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan, a leading free market economy in Central Asia who is also a key strategic partner of the United States in the region, has had every U.S. Administration certify to Congress that they have fully complied with the requirements of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment.

Rather than going through this certification process every year, Congress should get rid of this Cold War relic Jackson-Vanik Amendment.

The Cold War is over and it is time Congress acknowledge this fact of history by removing completely the Jackson-Vanik Amendment which belongs to a time in the past that no longer exists.






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