WASHINGTON–U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Wednesday authored an op-ed for The Diplomat calling on Congress to repeal Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions for Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan and grant those countries permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status. Murphy outlines why the United States must take advantage of shifting geopolitical dynamics to redefine and deepen our relationships in Central Asia.

“For too long, the U.S. has been on the sidelines while neighboring Russia and China exert enormous influence over countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. But we can see the limits of that influence as Central Asian governments become wary of their dependence on China, whose large economic investments in developing nations often come at huge cost to their sovereignty; and on Russia, whose international standing is in freefall. The U.S. must take advantage of this window of opportunity and offer a strategic alternative based on partnership rather than exploitation,” Murphy wrote.

Murphy explained how the Jackson-Vanik amendment hinders U.S. relationships in Central Asia: “Unfortunately, an anachronistic law stands in our way. In 1974, the United States passed the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which denied full U.S. trade relations to countries that restricted emigration rights for Soviet Jews and other minority groups. It was a useful tool to coerce the Soviet Union to improve its treatment of persecuted groups, including in Central Asia. Fifty years later, the Soviet Union is long gone, but this Cold War-era relic continues to limit our relationship with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan…Over the last few decades, Congress passed laws to “graduate” many former Soviet states – including Russia – to normal trade status. But some of the Central Asian states are stuck in the 1970s, not because they deserve pariah status, but largely due to inertia and a lack of focus on the region.”

On the potential benefits to deepening U.S. engagement in the region, Murphy wrote: “Beyond its strategic location, Central Asia is rich in critical resources like hydrocarbons and rare earth minerals. The United States was late to the race for critical minerals, but the Biden administration has made serious efforts to secure and expand supply chains. Granting PNTR to these countries – which have a combined annual GDP of $280 billion – will allow U.S. businesses better access to their markets, promote trade and investment, and create opportunities for growth. Central Asian states can diversify their economies, create jobs, and raise living standards for their populations, all while reducing their economic dependence on Russia and China.”

Murphy concluded: “As Russia’s influence wanes because of its invasion of Ukraine and countries grow wary of China, the United States has an opportunity (and an obligation) to redefine our relationship with Central Asia. Congress should seize this moment to advance our strategic and economic interests in the region by passing legislation to grant Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan PNTR status, relieving these countries from the outdated restrictions imposed by Jackson-Vanik.”

Read the full op-ed here.