Back in 1974 Senator Henry (Scoop) Jackson and Representative Charles Vanik introduced an amendment to a trade law with the purpose of punishing the Soviet Union and other communist countries for the denial of emigration rights to their citizens. At the time it was a justified decision, but in case someone forgot the evil empire has been gone since 1991. Unfortunately, for one of its former parts which never had any emigration restrictions, the Russian Federation, the Jackson-Vanik amendment remains in force. Strictly speaking, the amendment has been a dead letter since 1994 due to a ritual of annual Presidential waivers based on humiliating compliance reviews. Yet it continues to be a constant irritant in U.S.-Russia relations, and therefore should be repealed for good without further delay. It is easier said than done as both the Clinton and Bush administrations tried to get rid of this amendment but failed miserably since the U.S. Congress has the authority to act and refuses to go along.
It is pretty ironic, if not pathetic, that one of the most important stumbling blocks on the way to the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment are innocent American chickens or "Bush legs," as they call them in Russia. I am not talking, of course, about these pretty little birds but about one of the most powerful U.S. lobbies called the "Chicken Lobby" or "Big Chicken." This lobby helps producers sell as much poultry as possible, but as in any trade there are some periodical disputes between the exporters and importers. In normal circumstances, such disputes should be handled through standard commercial negotiation processes. However, "Big Chicken" uses its enormous influence and puts pressure on Congress and the administration to highly politicize this trade and block Russia's graduation from Jackson-Vanik unless it buys huge poultry volumes.
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