US Food Credits for Soviet Union Signal Warming of Once Icy Ties Easing Stiff Trade Laws Helps Gorbachev, Soviet Jews, and US Farmers. ANALYSIS

By Lawrence J. Goodrich, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 2, 1990 | Go to article overview

US Food Credits for Soviet Union Signal Warming of Once Icy Ties Easing Stiff Trade Laws Helps Gorbachev, Soviet Jews, and US Farmers. ANALYSIS


Lawrence J. Goodrich, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


PRESIDENT Bush's agreement to waive until next June some restrictions of the 1974 trade act and to grant up to $1 billion in agricultural credits to the Soviet Union has domestic and foreign policy advantages for the White House.

It also illustrates how important the issues of Jews and Israel are to US-Soviet relations.

The restrictions, known as the Jackson-Vanik and Stevenson amendments, prohibit the granting of beneficial trade tariffs or government credits over $300 million to communist countries that do not allow free emigration. Sponsored by the late Sen. Henry Jackson (D) of Washington and Rep. Charles Vanik (D) of Ohio, they were intended to force the Soviets to allow Jews more freedom to emigrate to Israel.

The restrictions were added to the trade act at a time when President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were trying to expand commercial and technical ties with the Soviets. Conservatives opposed to this policy of detente saw the curbs as a way to torpedo a developing relationship with a state they abhorred. The American Jewish community strongly supported the linkage of trade and emigration as the only practical leverage the US had to help win freedom for persecuted Soviet Jewry.

The trade act included provisions allowing the president, with Congress's approval, to waive the restrictions. During the 1970s and early 1980s, for example, Romania allowed a relatively large number of its citizens to emigrate, and was rewarded with annual waivers. This stopped as President Nicolae Ceausescu became increasingly repressive. Hungary and China also received waivers. Trade act and Soviet Jews

But it was never clear whether the Jackson-Vanik amendment helped or hurt the cause of Soviet Jews. Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union, which had been growing during the detente era, fell precipitously after the amendments were passed. It did not rebound until the Carter era, when the controversial SALT II arms control treaty was signed and a move was afoot to waive the restrictions. Those hopes evaporated in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the US-Soviet hostility of the early Reagan years.

Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union began to grow again after Mikhail Gorbachev took the reins of power in Moscow and launched his policies of glasnost and perestroika. It rose proportionately as US-Soviet relations improved beginning in 1985. At the same time, doubts began to increase among US Jews about the effectiveness or appropriateness of continuing the trade curbs.

In the last three years, Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union has mushroomed tenfold to 180,000 this year. About an equal number of non-Jewish Soviets will also depart. Trade act and Bush

The Bush administration has resisted lifting the Jackson-Vanik restrictions and submitting a new US-Soviet trade agreement to Congress until the Soviet parliament passes a law allowing free emigration. Soviet leaders have repeatedly indicated this will happen soon, but they have been saying that for the past year. Until an acceptable law is enacted, the ban on lower tariffs remains in effect.

But Bush's hand was forced by a variety of factors. The West badly wants Gorbachev to stay in power for fear that whoever might take his place would turn back the clock on human rights and military withdrawal from Eastern Europe. …

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US Food Credits for Soviet Union Signal Warming of Once Icy Ties Easing Stiff Trade Laws Helps Gorbachev, Soviet Jews, and US Farmers. ANALYSIS
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