WASHINGTON (Aug. 25)
American Jewish groups expect the newly restored and reform-minded government of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to soon be granted U.S. trade benefits for the first time since 1951.
At the same time, they are backing the Bush administration’s decision last week to only partially waive trade sanctions against Romania, where Jews have increasingly become targets of popular anti-Semitism since the ouster and execution of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in December 1989.
Congress is expected to vote in September on granting the Soviet Union most-favored-nation trade status, when it considers ratifying a U.S.-Soviet trade agreement signed by Presidents Bush and Gorbachev in June 1990.
“Clearly, they are going to reinstate it,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He predicted the United States will be granting the Soviet Union “a lot more benefits” in the coming months.
Countries with MFN status receive the lowest possible duties on their imports into the United States, and in turn give U.S. goods similar treatment.
MFN status for the Soviet Union was revoked during the Korean War. And in 1974, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the U.S. Trade Act made granting of MFN status and other benefits conditional on recipient countries allowing their citizens to emigrate freely.
Current Eastern European beneficiaries include Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. But Romania has not received MFN status since 1988.
PARTIAL WAIVER FOR ROMANIA
Last week, Bush decided to grant Romania a partial waiver of trade sanctions, which would make it eligible to receive credits for the purchase of American farm products but would leave it ineligible for MFN status.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater cited the fact that Romanians enjoy “wide freedom of emigration” as a reason for granting the partial waiver and said that a full waiver will be “decided on the basis of further substantial progress toward a market economy and democratic pluralism.”
The World Jewish Congress said a partial waiver was a “correct” decision, in that Romania “still has somewhere to go” in improving its internal human rights situation for minorities.
Any future U.S. judgment that Romania has expanded democratic pluralism “would take into account the human rights situation” facing Jews, said Elan Steinberg, WJC executive director.
Since Ceausescu’s downfall, anti-Semitism has resurfaced in Romania, as nationalist sentiment flourished and citizens were given the freedom to express views long suppressed by the former Communist regime.
“We don’t accuse the government of being behind it,” said Steinberg. But the WJC urges Romania to “take much more forceful action” to punish those who commit “hate crimes,” he said.
As for the Soviet Union, MFN status has been linked since the mid-1970s to the emigration question. But after the Soviet legislature adopted a long-promised emigration reform bill in May, President Bush decided the time had come to waive Jackson-Vanik sanctions and grant MFN status.
The National Conference on Soviet Jewry has endorsed the granting of MFN status to the Soviet Union since December 1990, on the basis of the steady stream of Jewish emigration plus expected Soviet assurances that the emigration will continue.
A LINK TO BROADER REFORM?
But the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews opposes ratification of the trade agreement until after the Soviet emigration reforms are shown to be working.
Nevertheless, Pamela Cohen of Chicago, the group’s president, predicted Congress would ratify the trade agreement and thereby grant MFN. “There are other issues facing the Congress and U.S.-Soviet relations, and they are not going to be in the mood to create another fight,” she said.
By not yet having approved MFN for the Soviets, Congress has “held out far longer than we had any right to expect,” she said.
Neither the National Conference nor the Union of Councils wants to see Congress condition MFN for the Soviets on improved market reforms, as the Bush administration has done with Romania. The groups argue that doing so would de-emphasize the direct linkage to emigration made in the Jackson-Vanik Amendment.
But Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said last week that Congress should approve the U.S.-Soviet trade agreement only “when we know we’re going to have a full commitment to reform and when irreversible steps have been taken,” The Washington Post reported. Leahy chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee.