Washington briefing: Proposed removal of U.S. trade restrictions for Azerbaijan questioned

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Friday June 12, 2009

Former Sen. Henry Jackson, who co-authored trade restrictions legislation with Rep. Charles Vanik.

Washington - Armenian organizations are questioning the rationale and timing for the efforts to remove Soviet-era trade sanctions against Azerbaijan – commonly referred to as the Jackson-Vanik amendment.

On June 4 Reps. Robert Wexler (D.-Fla.) and Bill Shuster (R.-Pa.), who co-chair the Turkey and Azerbaijan caucuses, respectively, introduced House Resolution 2742 "to authorize the extension of nondiscriminatory treatment (normal trade relations treatment) to the products of Azerbaijan," which would terminate the restriction vis-à-vis Azerbaijan. The bill has since been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Azerbaijan and all other former Soviet republics and satellite states inherited the restriction in the aftermath of the Soviet breakup. It was originally intended to promote human rights, particularly freedom of emigration. Rarely enforced, it has been a symbolic measure and successive U.S. presidents have annually waived the restriction.

Jackson-Vanik restrictions had been previously removed for former Soviet republics that joined or were about to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Although Azerbaijan first applied for WTO membership in 1997, it has until now showed little interest in joining the group.

"The consideration of this ill-timed legislation would afford Members of Congress a valuable opportunity to review Azerbaijan's unacceptable behavior on a range of issues – from its arms build-up and its threats of renewed aggression against Armenia to its authoritarian political system and systematic destruction of Christian Armenian cultural heritage," Aram Hamparian of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) told the Armenian Reporter.

Ross Vartian of the U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee (USAPAC) added, "The United States cannot grant Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) to a nation like Azerbaijan that blockades another nation, Armenia, in violation of U.S. law."

The Obama administration has not yet taken a public position on the proposed legislation.

Meanwhile, the State Department's incoming assistant secretary for political-military affairs, Andrew Shapiro, praised Azerbaijan for "cooperating in good faith" in the Karabakh peace process and indicated that the United States would continue security assistance to Azerbaijan, the ANCA reported on June 10.

The comment came as part of Mr. Shapiro's confirmation process and was in response to questions from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) who raised the issue of Azerbaijani war threats against Armenia and continued U.S. security assistance to Azerbaijan.

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