MOSCOW (AP) -- The U.S. Secretary of Commerce said Wednesday that Moscow should lift its restrictions on U.S. poultry and pork imports to encourage the U.S. Congress to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a key irritant in U.S.-Russian relations.
Secretary Gary Locke said U.S. lawmakers would likely regard action on meat imports as a first step toward repealing the 1974 law that limited trade with Communist nations which restricted the emigration of Soviet Jews.
President Barack Obama's administration told Russia it would make repealing the law a priority, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday.
The law remains on the books due to lingering post-Cold War disputes on human rights, trade and other issues.
Russia restricted poultry imports in 2008 and banned pork imports from some U.S. states after the outbreak of swine flu this spring, although the World Health Organization says meat products cannot transmit the illness. Russia raised tariffs on meat imports earlier this year.
Locke also said Russia and the U.S. have set up a working group on trade, the first under a new commission established Monday by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to expand commercial, scientific and cultural ties.
"The Russian government is very eager to get working on this working group," Locke said. He said the level of trade between the two economies is "a fraction of what it could be."
One major concern is Russia's effort to win entry to the World Trade Organization, which has been thrown into confusion after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Russia would only join the WTO as part of a customs union with neighboring Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Locke said most WTO member nations thought the Russian plan was "unworkable, unprecedented and would only delay matters."
He added that Russia might apply for individual membership under conditions that would apply to the two other nations.
Russia, the only major country still outside the WTO, still faces major barriers to membership even after 14 years of negotiations to join the 153-member body, which sets the rules on global trade.