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Democrats float plan to end Russia trade restriction

WASHINGTON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - A group of congressional Democrats outlined a proposal on Friday to eliminate a Cold War trade provision that Russia views as an unjustified badge of shame.

Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, and Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, said they would soon introduce a bill to remove Russia from the provisions of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which Congress passed in 1974.

The measure required the former Soviet Union and other "non-market economies" to allow free emigration to be eligible for normal trade relations with the United States.

U.S. officials credit the measure with enabling 573,000 Jews and other refugees to emigrate to the United States from the former Soviet Union and Russia since 1975. A further 1 million Russian Jews emigrated to Israel in the same period.

The White House has found Russia to be in compliance with the measure since 1994. Even so, Moscow views the provision as a stain on its international profile and has repeatedly pressed for it to be removed.

Lifting the measure would allow the United to establish "permanent normal trade relations" with Russia, or the same trade relationship it has with most countries.

Baucus, who until recently was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was opposed in the past to lifting Jackson-Vanik for Russia, but not because of emigration concerns.

Instead, with Moscow now negotiating terms of entry into the World Trade Organization, Baucus has wanted to maintain maximize U.S. leverage in those talks.

The proposed bill - which also has the backing of Rep. Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat - splits the two issues.

It removes Russia from Jackson-Vanik but gives Congress an opportunity to vote on the terms of Russia's WTO accession.

Last year, Bush administration efforts to persuade Congress to lift Jackson-Vanik for Russia ran into a brick wall after Moscow cut off imports of U.S. poultry.

The Baucus-Rangel-Levin bill grew out of consultations between the Bush administration and Congress last year before the poultry dispute arose, Democratic aides said.

Moscow has lifted its ban on U.S. poultry but still restricts imports by means of a quota. Conditions had improved enough it might be possible to move forward on Jackson-Vanik legislation this year, a Senate aide said.

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