by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson
Amendments to the Trade Act (1974)
Background: U.S. Trade Policy generally has favored open markets and free trade. Under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (1947), the U.S. committed to remove most barriers to trade. It never was enacted by Congress, but was agreed to by Pres. Truman under authority given the Pres. by a 1934 Act.
Power for Presidents to negotiate trade agreements was authorized for 5 years in a 1962 act. This authority expired in 1967.
Pres. Nixon sought new authority in this area.
The 1974 Trade Act gave him "fast track" authority to negotiate agreements, subject to Congressional approval. All agreements with non-market (communist) countries required Congressional OK.
Sen. Henry Jackson in the Senate, and Rep. Charles Vanik authored one additional provision included in the Act that was not favored by Pres. Nixon. It required that for the Soviet Union to receive Most Favored Nation status, the USSR would have to permit free emigration. Nixon believed presidential powers should be unfettered by Congress, and was pursuing a policy of detente (or relaxation of tensions) with the Soviets, a policy he feared would be imperiled by Congress' immigration demands. While the legislation did not specify the intended beneficiaries, the intent of Congress ascan be inferred from the lobbying for this provision and from the debate. The historic record is clear that Congress' chief concerns grew out of new exit taxes enacted by the Soviets that disproportionately were restricting the outward migration of Soviet Jews. These "Jackson-Vanik" amendments to the Trade Act passed each house of Congress unanimously, and were signed into law in January 1975 by Nixon's successor, Pres. Gerald Ford.
Publicly, the USSR rejected the pressure made by Jackson-Vanik, and renounced the US-USSR trade agreement. But practically speaking, the Soviets needed to import U.S. grain, and their declining economy needed these imports to be at the lowest possible prices. Thus, the Soviets were caught in a dilemma.
Until relations with the West soured over the Soviets' invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, the Soviets quietly accommodated some of the goals of Jackson-Vanik to a degree. In 1978, 39,000 Soviet Jews were permitted to emigrate; and in 1979, 51,000 were permitted to leave. But tensions resumed with the West in the 1980's during the Reagan years, and emigration was choked off. In 1982, less than 3000 Soviet Jews were permitted exit, and in 1985, the year Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party, only 1140 were allowed to go. In 1986, Gorbachev's first full year in power, fewer still --914 Soviet Jews-- were permitted to emigrate. Later, as the reform years of the Gorbachev Administration unfolded, restrictions on Soviets' rights to emigrate were again relaxed slightly, though the 8,000 to 10,000 a year who left were only a small fraction of the numbers who left during the later 1970's.
Other Soviet minorities also benefitted from Jackson-Vanik. Over 21,000 Volga Germans (whom the former West German government welcomed without restriction) exited in the first half of 1988, a rate four times higher than that granted to Soviet Jews in that same year. In 1986, 753 and in 1987, about 14,000 Volga Germans were permitted to leave the USSR.
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