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U.S. Senate nears vote on Russia trade, rights bill

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 4 Dec 2012 07:40 PM
Author: Reuters
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WASHINGTON, Dec 4 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate is expected to approve a bill this week to upgrade trade relations with Russia and to penalize Russian human rights violators, sending it to President Barack Obama to sign into law, congressional aides said on Tuesday.

The House voted 365-43 last month to approve the legislation, which grants "permanent normal trade relations" (PNTR) to Russia by lifting a Cold War-era restriction on trade.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said the Senate would take up the measure after it finishes work on a defense bill, which could happen as early as Tuesday.

The Senate is expected to pass the trade legislation without any amendments, speeding its way to become law, aides said.

Business groups have been pushing Congress for months to approve the bill, which would ensure that U.S. companies get all the benefits of Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization. Russia joined the WTO on Aug. 22.

U.S. companies believe PNTR could help them double or triple exports to the world's ninth-largest economy.

Without it, they fear they will be left at a disadvantage to countries in Europe and Asia and others around the world that already have full WTO relations with Russia.

The United States also cannot use the WTO dispute-settlement system to challenge any Russian actions that unfairly restrict U.S. imports unless Congress approves PNTR.

The bill, in a provision that infuriates Moscow, also directs Obama to publish the names of Russians allegedly involved in the abuse and death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died in a Russian jail in 2009.

It also would require the United States to deny visas and freeze the assets of any individual on the list, as well as other human rights violators in Russia on an ongoing basis.

Moscow has warned that the human rights provision would hurt relations and has promised to retaliate if it becomes law.

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