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House OKs bill normalizing trade with Russia

– The House showed some bipartisan cooperation Friday by voting overwhelmingly to end Soviet-era trade restrictions so that American companies and farmers can take advantage of Russia’s expanding and more open markets.

But Moscow reacted angrily to a provision that punishes Russian officials involved in human rights violations, threatening to increase tensions between the two countries at a delicate time. “A defiantly unfriendly and provocative attack,” the Russian Foreign Ministry branded it and promised “a tough response.”

The Obama administration supports the legislation, which now goes to the Senate, where the Democratic leadership has indicated it will consider the measure promptly. The House passed it by a 365-43 vote.

The vote to establish permanent normal trade relations was a priority for American businesses concerned that they were being left behind as Europe and China move into Russia’s market of 140 million consumers.

Russia joined the World Trade Organization in August, and Moscow is now required to lower tariffs and take other market-opening measures. But unless Congress voted to eliminate a 1974 trade restriction and establish permanent trade relations, the U.S. would be alone among 156 WTO members in failing to benefit from those new trade rules.

The legislation stalled before the U.S. election as lawmakers shied away from voting for a measure that might appear to be aiding Russia at a time when President Vladimir Putin’s government had become increasingly hostile.

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