Washington: The House has voted overwhelmingly to end Soviet-era trade restrictions while approving a measure that punishes Russian officials for human rights violations.
Moscow reacted angrily to the provision that threatens to increase tensions between the two countries at a time when they are at odds over missile defense, Syria`s civil war and Iran`s nuclear ambitions.
"A defiantly unfriendly and provocative attack," the Russian Foreign Ministry branded it and promised "a tough response."
The Obama administration supports the legislation, which now goes to the Senate, where the Democratic leadership has indicated it will consider the measure promptly. The House passed it yesterday by a 365-43 vote.
The vote to establish permanent normal trade relations was a priority for American businesses and farmers concerned that they were being left behind as Europe and China move into Russia`s market of 140 million consumers.
Russia joined the World Trade Organisation in August, and Moscow is now required to lower tariffs and take other market-opening measures. But unless Congress voted to eliminate a 1974 trade restriction and establish permanent trade relations, the US would be alone among 156 WTO members in failing to benefit from those new trade rules.
The legislation stalled before the US election as lawmakers shied away from voting for a measure that might appear to be aiding Russia at a time when President Vladimir Putin`s government had become increasingly hostile. Many members of Congress were mollified by the addition to the bill of a measure that punishes Russian officials involved in human rights violations.
The administration and economists have predicted that US exports of goods and services, currently at USD 11 billion, could double in five years if trade relations were normalized.