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Behind the Headlines Laws to Reduce Soviet Bars to Emigration Under Attack

February 28, 1979
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Two laws overwhelmingly adopted by the Congress in the ?id 1970s to help loosen Soviet restrictions against any of its citizens–Jewish and non-Jewish–who wish to emigrate now face a fresh legislative assault that would divert them from the purpose for which they were written.

Together with the old arguments that the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the U.S. Trade Act and the Stevenson Amendment to the Export-Import Bank Act hurt American business and employment and does not help emigration anyway are two new contentions–opening the door to the China trade demands equal trade rights for Moscow and Peking to avoid Soviet charges of discrimination by Washington and, furthermore, with Soviet emigration reaching an all time high the Kremlin should be rewarded with softer commercial measures.

Marshalling their strength to bring about most-favored-nation (MFN) treatment and vastly greater governmental credit to the Soviets are business leaders–notably those in the U.S.-USSR Trade Council–and their allies in the federal bureaucracy who consistently argue that the Soviet Union should not be offended for its treatment of its own people.

Thus far, the Carter Administration continues to stand by the Jackson Amendment adopted in 1974. Its leading spokesmen and Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D. W. Va.) have publicly said their positions are unchanged. President Carter pledged support in 1976 to Sen. Henry Jackson (D. Wash.) on the trade law and, according to Jackson aides, the President has not indicated alternatives.

The Jackson-Vanik Amendment bars MFN treatment for “non-market” (Communist) countries as long as they do not provide “assurances” of liberalized emigration practices. MFN allows much lower tariff rates. Certain goods taxed at the ports of entry by as much as 22 percent get by with only five percent for those with MFN credentials. Thus, much Soviet goods are effectively barred from American markets. The President can waive this barrier and grant MFN for one year at a time if he gets “assurances” annually. This puts a leash on Soviet compliance.


The Stevenson Amendment, passed in 1975, is the other side of the trade coin. It permits the Soviet Union to borrow up to $300 million in U.S. credits unless Congress allows a higher level. This law also limits export of energy-related equipment and technology to the USSR to $40 million in credit that requires Ex-Im backing. It also requires a Presidential determination that a U.S. loan of $50 million or more to ? Communist country in a single transaction is in the U.S. national interest.

Sen. Adlai Stevenson (D.III.), who authored the Export-Import Amendment, now has offered the Senate a bill that, In his words, amends the Ex-Im and J-V Amendments “to provide identical requirements for determining the eligibility of any Communist state for MFN and Ex-Im Bank credit, and for reviewing and limiting such credits. Provisions in both acts which single out the USSR for special treatment would be repealed.”

Stevenson holds that the President, when initiating a waiver under the Trade Act, would make a determination regarding the emigration practices of Communist countries rather than relying upon assurances from such countries and the waiver period would be fixed at five years instead of one year. “He said that this would encourage Communist countries for liberalize” emigration.

“Resorting to the quiet diplomacy” position that the Nisan and Ford Administrations had used in opposing the Jackson-Vanik measure, Stevenson now says “Countries may do quietly that which they are reluctant to announce formally in response to threats or demand. And trade could proceed satisfactorily, as it cannot on a spasmodic, interruptible basis.”

His bill, Stevenson told the Senate Feb. 5, would “also remove restrictions” in the Ex-Im Act on financing exports to the Soviet Union for developing fossil fuel energy resources. He would raise the loan ceiling to two billion dollars and single transactions to $200 million. Neither the present law nor Stevenson’s new bill would affect the loans to the Soviet Union from the Commodity Credit Corporation for American agricultural products.


Both the National Conference for {SPAN}###ovief lewry and Russian Jews in nine Soviet cities oppose the Stevenson measures. The Soviet refusniks told the Congress the Jackson Amendment is “the only legislative enactment which, to some extent at least, acts as an obstacle to the unbridled tyranny of the Soviet authorities in their emigration policies.”{/SPAN}The Conference has observed that the extension of the review period gives the Soviet too much latitude without on adequate checkpoint while removal of all requirements for “assurances” Fundamentally alters the present legal restraints. Rep Robert Drinan (D. Mass.), chairman of the International Committee for the Release of Anatoly Shcharansky, notes that “weakening the Jackson-Vanik Amendment now would send precisely the wrong signal to the Soviet Union and would be taken as an indication that our firm resolve on this critical human rights question is crumbling.”

Regarding the emigration flow, J-V supporters note that when emigration plunged following the law’s enactment, its opponents argued the law was blocking emigration. Now that emigration is moving at an annual rate of 50,000 — a peak point in Soviet history–the opponents contend the J-V law should be removed to keep the flow going. “Those people are against the law whether emigration is up or down,” a Congressional source noted.


These supporters point out that the Soviet emigration flow depends on Kremlin policy and not on the desire of its citizens. When the Soviet government was contending hardly any of its people wanted to emigrate and the Jewish community depended on “quiet diplomacy” to change the Kremlin’s view, Soviet emigration in the 10 years 1961-70 totaled only 8975.

When the first Brussels Conference for Soviet Jewry in 1971 opened a global campaign for increased emigration and Jackson and Rep. Charles Vanik (D. Ohio) began driving for a law, the Soviets suddenly boosted the output of Jewish emigration to prove no U.S. law was needed to help Jews emigrate. In 1971, the flow was 12,877. The following year it was up to 31,903, and then in 1973 the total climbed to 34,933 — the record of that time.

But with Congress passing the Jackson-Vanik Amendment which President Ford signed, the Soviets repudiated their 1972 trade agreement with the U.S. and emigration plunged. It fell in 1974 to 20,695; to 13,459 the next year, rose to 14,216 in 1976 and to 16,737 in 1977 before zooming again to 28,864 in 1978 as signs multiplied that larger emigration would mean bigger loans to the Kremlin with which to buy American equipment. In January of this year, it was slightly over 4000. At this rate, about 50,000 Jews would be emigrating in 1979.

A spokesman for the U.S. Commission that monitors the Helsinki agreements, led by Rep. Dante Fascell (D. Fla.), has pointed out that the Soviet flow even at the current rate does not meet the minimum standard under Kremlin assurances in 1974 as indicated in the letters exchanged by Jackson and Secretary of State. Henry Kissinger. That standard was 60,000 emigrants per year with hopes of higher numbers. The present back log of Soviet Jews waiting to emigrate is estimated by the Commission at about 200,000.

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