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US could lift trade barriers with Russia next year

A senior Russian lawmaker said Wednesday that a Soviet-era rule restricting trade with Russia could be lifted by Washington as early as next year, after presidential elections in the United States.

The 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which restricted trade with the Soviet Union over human rights violations, still applies Russia, and has prompted the Kremlin to talk of the country being subjected to Cold War prejudices. Speaking after a meeting between members of the upper chamber of the Russian parliament and US senators in Moscow, Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council's Committee on International Affairs, said: „Our colleagues at the US Senate believe that the amendment could be abolished following the presidential elections [in the US].”

„After Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) this amendment would be an obstacle not only for Russian companies, but also for US firms, and would harm the American economy as well,” Margelov said. Russia-US trade has grown briskly in recent years, with US exports to Russia growing at an average of 20% annually over the past three years, reaching $4.7 billion in 2006. Foreign direct investment by American companies in Russia is now estimated at $11 billion, nearly twice the level of three years ago, and Russian investment in the US at $3 billion.

Moscow has signed bilateral protocols with all but four WTO members and is yet to complete multilateral talks with its trade partners within the 150-member bloc, which Russia hopes to join by the end of the year. Russia hopes to conclude bilateral talks with Vietnam and Cambodia on its accession to the WTO by the end of June, the economics minister, German Gref, said last week.

The country also needs to resolve a dispute with its former Soviet ally Georgia, which withdrew from a bilateral WTO agreement after Moscow banned key Georgian exports in March 2006, and to sign a protocol with Guatemala. A new round of talks on Russia's accession to the WTO between Russian and Georgian officials is currently being held in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi. According to Georgia's Economic Development Ministry, the talks are focusing primarily on a dispute over Russian customs control points in the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. (