Elected officials will face many contentious issues affecting economic and foreign policy during the upcoming lame-duck session of Congress and heading into 2013. However, one issue on which they should be able to work together is extending permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to Russia.
Russia officially joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in August. However, U.S. businesses will not be able to fully benefit from the concessions Russia made to join the WTO unless Congress first repeals the Jackson–Vanik Amendment, a powerful tool that the U.S. successfully used to promote human rights in the USSR and the Eastern Bloc.
Failure to repeal Jackson–Vanik could place U.S. companies at a disadvantage vis-à-vis companies in other WTO members, which would benefit from significantly increased access to the Russian economy.
Congress and President Obama can demonstrate bipartisan leadership by extending PNTR to Russia while also passing the Magnitsky Act, which would deny U.S. visas to individuals who are guilty of massive human rights violations and freeze all of their assets within the purview of the U.S. government.
Both actions have broad bipartisan backing, and they provide a good opportunity for President Obama and Congress to immediately demonstrate their ability to work together.