The US House of Representatives supports removing the “most-favoured-nation” trade status for Russia and Belarus

The largest Ukrainian market, Barabashovo, is set on fire in Kharkiv
Ukraine’s largest market Barabashovo is set on fire after shelling amid the Russian attack on Ukraine in Kharkiv, Ukraine March 17, 2022. REUTERS/Vitalii Hnidyi

March 18, 2022

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly backed legislation to strip Russia and Belarus of their “most favored nation” trade status in light of Ukraine’s invasion, paving the way for higher tariffs on imports from the countries to level.

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted 424 to 8 to remove Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status, the latest effort by Congress to put economic pressure on Moscow.

To become law, the measure must also pass the Senate. Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader, said it would go through the Senate quickly after approval by the House of Representatives.

The move to strip Russia of World Trade Organization status is being coordinated with similar efforts by other G7 democracies. It would automatically raise US tariffs on imports from Russia to non-WTO rates and empowers US President Joe Biden to announce higher tariffs on products from Russia and Belarus.

But after a ban on US imports of Russian energy products last week, the impact of the tariff status change could be largely symbolic, said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“If you look at the data, we just don’t import a lot of stuff from Russia,” Bown said.

According to the World Bank, the top non-petroleum imports from Russia in 2020 were palladium, pig iron, rhodium, unprocessed aluminum alloys, plywood and fertilizers. Palladium and rhodium are used in autocatalysts.

The vote in the House of Representatives came a day after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered an emotional speech to Congress – via video link – asking for more support. Many MPs wore pins with the Ukrainian flag when they voted.

The measure would also expand the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and make it easier to impose sanctions on Russian officials for human rights abuses.

All eight “no” votes came from Republicans, some of whom said the Magnitsky provision gave the president too much power.

“If we don’t fight for human rights for commercial reasons, we lose any moral authority to fight for human rights,” said Speaker of the Democratic House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, urging support for the bill.

Republican Rep. Victoria Spartz, the only Ukrainian-born member of Congress, said it was important for close Russian ally Belarus to be included. “We cannot create a loophole through which Putin will use Belarus to funnel money through them,” she said.

The measure also instructs US Trade Representative Katherine Tai to use “the voice and influence of the United States at the WTO” to encourage other countries to suspend trade concessions to Russia and halt Belarus’ entry into the trade organization.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Franklin Paul, Alexandra Hudson, and David Gregorio) The US House of Representatives supports removing the “most-favoured-nation” trade status for Russia and Belarus


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