A senior U.S. senator has introduced legislation into Congress that would lift trade restrictions on Moldova, scrapping a Cold War-era barrier.
Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, authored the bill, which would repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment's restrictions on Chisinau.
In a statement, Lugar said doing so would "provide an important impetus for improving trade relations between the United States and Moldova and advancing Moldova's Western ambitions."
First enacted in 1975, the Jackson-Vanik amendment was considered a critical tool in U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union. Designed to pressure Moscow on its refusal to allow Jews and other minorities to leave and move abroad, the amendment prohibited normal trade relations with countries that had nonmarket economies and restricted emigration.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the accession of post-Soviet countries to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the financial restrictions were lifted for more than a dozen states.
Moldova, which joined the WTO in 2001, has yet to be "graduated."
John Todd Stewart, who was U.S. ambassador to Moldova from 1995-1998, told RFE/RL that a lifting of the restrictions is long overdue. "Certainly there's absolutely no reason to keep Moldova subject to Jackson-Vanik," he said.
"There has never been any question at all since Moldova's independence of the ability of residents and citizens to emigrate freely, so its continued application to Moldova is simply an anachronism. It has been an unfortunate besmirching of Moldova's reputation," he added.
While the legislation has remained in place, Moldova, along with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, have been given "no violation" status by U.S. lawmakers, essentially waiving the amendment's trade restrictions.
The continued Jackson-Vanik label, however, has been rebuked by Moldova advocates and has proven an especially sensitive topic in U.S.-Russian relations, with some in Moscow accusing Washington of purposely clinging to outdated, punitive measures.
Matthew Rojansky, deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank, described the argument of many Moldovans for officially repealing the restriction.
"The call has been outstanding for a long time from Moldova advocates. They always pointed to the irony that as unfair as it is, frankly, that Russia is still subject to Jackson-Vanik, it's even more illogical with respect to Moldova because the logic that's marshaled on Russia -- that Russia may not practice discrimination against Jewish emigration, but they still practice various human rights abuses -- it's hard to make that case for Moldova. It's a pretty democratic, pretty low-key government in terms of human rights abuses," he said.
Rojansky said the new push to repeal the amendment for Chisinau may also be indicative of Washington's current thinking toward the country, whose government is now led by a coalition of pro-European parties.
In looking to expand Euro-Atlantic relations with countries on Russia's periphery, Rojansky said, "Some [in the West] view Moldova, now that Ukraine has fallen off the wagon and Belarus, clearly, was never on the wagon, as the best remaining candidate."
Stewart says the delay in pushing for a Jackson-Vanik appeal for Moldova is simply "an oversight," with the need to do so long overshadowed by more pressing issues on the legislators' agenda. "I think the primary reason [for the delay] is just the difficulty in passing what to the U.S. Congress is a less-than-significant piece of legislation," he said.
"It does take a certain amount of time and effort to push a bill through the Congress and there has to be a certain amount of steam behind the effort," he added.
The bill must be approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and voted on by the full Senate before becoming law.