House Votes to Strip Russia of Its Favorable Trade Relations Status

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Mar 17 2022 |
Aerial view of the port city of Murmansk, Russia. Getty Images

The legislation to revoke Russia’s “permanent normal trade relations” status, which is backed by President Biden, now heads to the Senate. Other countries also are undertaking similar efforts.

The House of Representatives on Thursday voted 424-8 to suspend normalized trade relations with Russia, another step forward in the ongoing effort to inflict economic damage on Vladimir Putin and his regime for the unjustified invasion of Ukraine.

Lawmakers also voted to strip Russian ally Belarus of its “permanent normal trade relations” (PNTR) status. If the legislation is approved as expected by the Senate, Russia and Belarus will face additional trade barriers and higher tariff rates for any products they import to the United States. Of course, many Russian-made products are now banned from the U.S. altogether, from oil to vodka to seafood to diamonds.

The legislation passed by the House also directs the U.S. Trade Representative to work to secure Russia’s suspension from the World Trade Organization (WTO) and prevent Belarus from joining.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Texas), who worked together on the bipartisan bill that passed on Thursday, said in a joint statement that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to Congress on Wednesday “only strengthened our resolve to further isolate and weaken Putin.” They continued:

“This legislation builds on last week’s energy import ban to inflict even greater economic pain on the Russian regime and its enablers. We must do all we can to hold Putin accountable for senselessly attacking the Ukrainian people and undermining global stability. The suspension of normal trade relations is an essential part of our effort to restore peace, save lives, and defend democracy.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Thursday that he plans to get the legislation to President Biden’s desk quickly. “Both parties remain united in sending Putin a clear message: His inhumane violence against the Ukrainian people will come at a crippling price and today’s step by the House is another way we’re making that come true,” Schumer said.

Congress actually has taken the lead on moving to revoke Russia’s PNTR status. Lawmakers from both parties introduced several bills to do so, and the overall effort has had the support of Congressional leadership.

But Biden said last week that he asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to hold off on the effort until U.S. allies also agreed to do the same in their countries. That happened on Friday, as the United States joined the European Union and G7 nations in announcing that all would work to revoke Russia’s favored nation trade status. “Unity among our allies is critically important,” Biden said.

We’ll keep a close eye on the legislation as it moves ahead. While revoking Russia’s PNTR status in itself likely won’t end the invasion, it is another piece of the larger puzzle to ensure that the Kremlin will face punishment for the brutality being unjustifiably inflected on Ukraine.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) — who actually helped negotiate Russia’s PNTR status when he was U.S. Trade Representative during the George W. Bush administration — put it this way: “As easily as we granted PNTR, Congress can take it away. Invading a sovereign nation, a democracy no less, is certainly grounds for us to take away that privilege.”

The Senate should pass this legislation as soon as possible.