Congress moves to ban Russian energy imports and end favorable trade

A bipartisan group of lawmakers said Monday they would move forward with legislation banning imports of Russian energy into the United States and suspending normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus in response to the US invasion. ‘Ukraine.

The legislation aims to inflict further financial hardship on Russia and Belarus, which have contributed to the conflict, by cutting off Russia’s oil exports to the United States and giving President Biden the ability to raise tariffs on products from both countries.

The bipartisan agreement to cut oil imports adds to growing pressure on Mr Biden to turn off the tap. Although the United States imports only 7% of its oil from Russia, the administration has so far avoided banning imports, in part because it fears it could further accelerate already high prices. some gas. Russia and Belarus are minor trading partners of the United States, although they supply some crucial materials for certain industries, including platinum, iron and fertilizers.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that the United States was considering banning imports of Russian oil, driving up oil prices.

The legislation would also require the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to seek Russia’s suspension from the World Trade Organization and attempt to halt Belarus’ attempt to join the world trade body. The president would have the power to restore normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus under certain conditions, lawmakers said.

Whether the legislation can pass Congress and make it to Mr. Biden’s desk remains to be seen, but it has the support of House and Senate lawmakers, including several powerful committee chairs.

“As Russia continues its unprovoked attack on the Ukrainian people, we have agreed on a legislative path to ban the import of energy products from Russia and suspend normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus. “, the lawmakers said in a statement.

Those supporting the bill include Rep. Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas; Rep. Richard E. Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts; Senator Mike Crapo, Republican of Idaho; and Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon.

House Democrats said Feb. 25 they were introducing a bill to revoke permanent normal trade relations with Russia, a move that would raise the average tariff the United States charges on Russian goods to about $33. % versus 3%. Several other lawmakers have introduced legislation to remove trade preferences for Russia or Belarus or ban the import of Russian oil.

US trade with Russia is limited: Russia ranked 20th in terms of global suppliers of goods to the US in 2019, sending mainly fuels, platinum and other metals, iron, fertilizers and chemicals. Russia was the 40th largest export market for the United States that year, buying mainly machinery, planes, cars and medical instruments.

Canada last week stripped Russia and Belarus of their most-favoured-nation treatment, leaving these countries facing a 35% tariff to send products to Canada. The European Union and the United States are considering similar measures.

Congress has the power to revoke preferential trade relations, but it’s unclear whether the United States and Europe would be able to force Russia out of the WTO. The 164-member trade body is designed to operate by consensus and generally requires the approval of all of its members. James Bacchus, former WTO official, argued that the group has a way to achieve this, if the majority of its members agree to modify their charter.

The world trade body that preceded the WTO, called the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, expelled Serbia and Montenegro in 1992 after their invasion of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Congress revoked the normal trade relations with Serbia and Montenegro in the same year. But the system has not undergone a similar test since the establishment of the WTO in 1995.

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