Trading on human rights
Hammering out a long-term strategy that stimulates trade but also attempts (however modestly) to enshrine human dignity is a not a frivolous question. PNTR with Russia will goose the regional economy, advancing the sale of Boeing aircraft while also boosting the state's agricultural sector. With Russia joining the World Trade Organization, the question grows more urgent. PNTR and stronger bilateral trade are imperative.
This loops us back to the human-dignity question: Are morality and economics mutually exclusive? Internalizing trade policy, a nest of tariffs and arcane regulations, is looking through a glass, darkly. PNTR, however, is simple. Congress must extend it to Russia or else American businesses lose out on tariff reductions enjoyed by other WTO members.
The current PNTR stumbling block revolves around the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the Trade Act of 1974 which denies most-favored-nations' trade status to non-market economies that prohibit free emigration. In the 1970s and 80s, Jackson-Vanik not only benefitted Soviet Jewry slammed with a Cold War "diploma tax," but also liberated religious and political minorities in Poland and throughout the Eastern Bloc. It was an inspired, albeit outdated law that linked human rights and American foreign policy.
Today, Russia is a free-market economy steered by a thuggish, rights'-abusing president. Vladimir Putin is no Stalin, nor is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the billionaire prisoner of conscience, a modern-day Andrei Sakharov. Nevertheless, Russia's systemic disregard for human rights goes unchallenged. Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian attorney who died in prison after spotlighting government abuses, gave expression to this quiet violence. Magnitsky is now the namesake of a modest, Congressional effort that will impose sanctions on those responsible for his torture, detention and death. President Putin, not surprisingly, is opposed. The Obama administration, disappointingly, is as well.
American companies view the Magnitsky Act as a nuisance, especially if its passage is linked to the necessary repeal of Jackson-Vanik. It's an inconvenience worth the price, however. Lawmakers, like everyone in the public sphere, need to look at their decisions though history's lens. Jets without justice? Repeal a human rights' amendment in exchange for, well, nothing? Members of the Washington Congressional delegation require a friendly elbow, that PNTR for Russia and human rights are indivisible.