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Trade as the next stage in the US 'reset' with Russia

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The cold-war circumstances of Jackson-Vanick no longer exist, but some lawmakers – Democrats and Republicans – view the law as leverage to press for a variety of changes in Russia, be they in its relations with Georgia, on human rights, or on economic reforms. That became quite clear when US Trade Representative Ron Kirk testified before the Senate this week.

Senators from both parties questioned him on Russia’s readiness to abide by international trade rules. They pointed to China, which joined the WTO in 2001, as still a flagrant abuser of trade standards – a manipulator of its currency and a thief of foreign intellectual property. Why would Russia – unpredictable, far from democratic, and often unfriendly – act any differently?

True, Moscow has a long list of wrongs in foreign policy and governance, and in the way it manages its state-heavy economy. Mr. Biden didn’t shirk from publicly pointing them out in a speech at Moscow State University on Thursday. He repeated Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s phrase of “a country of legal nihilism.”

But bringing Russia into the WTO and restoring normal trade relations with that country should not be viewed as rewarding bad behavior. Rather, it’s a way to support and encourage better behavior – more transparency and predictability. The WTO is a rules-based system that, while sometimes flouted and slow, provides a framework for trade and a process for redress.

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