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How Russia joining the WTO impacts the U.S.

Russian Chief Negotiator Maxim Medvedkov smiles with a t-shirt he received from the hand of WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy after formal negotiations on Russia's membership bid to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO), on November 10, 2011.

Stacey Vanek Smith: After nearly two decades of negotiations, Russia is now officially a member of the World Trade Organization. It's an economic boon for Russia; Its estimated foreign tariffs cost the country's exporters as much as $2 billion a year. It's also an economic boon for most of the WTO's members, but not the U.S. That's because of a 1974 amendment passed by Congress to punish the Soviet Union for preventing Jews from emigrating.

Peter van Dyk has more from Moscow.


Peter van Dyk: Joining the WTO means Russia will lower import tariffs and open up to more foreign competition. But the Jackson Vanik Amendment means new rules won't apply to U.S. companies.

Bill Watson: If we don't repeal Jackson-Vanik, it's as if for the United States, Russia never joined the WTO.

Bill Watson is a trade policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington. He says Congress can't think beyond the November elections. And it doesn't want to be seen to be giving Russia an easy ride on issues like human rights and corruption.

Watson: They ought to be looking at this whole issue as a jobs bill, something to do to create economic opportunity to open Russian markets to U.S. products.

Watson says the U.S. wins more than Russia from its entry into the WTO. But the Jackson Vanik act means other WTO members get a head start. That's why U.S. companies doing business here have long lobbied to get rid of the amendment. In fact, right now it's about their biggest job.

In Moscow, I'm Peter van Dyk for Marketplace.

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