Saturday, May 28

US House backs removal of ‘most-favored’ trade status for Russia, Belarus

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WASHINGTON — The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly backed legislation on Thursday to remove “most favored nation” trade status for Russia and Belarus over the invasion of Ukraine, paving the way for higher tariffs on imports from the countries.

The Democratic-controlled House voted 424-8 in favor of removing Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status, the latest congressional effort to put economic pressure on Moscow.

President Joe Biden’s administration has pledged to revoke Russia’s normal trade relations at the World Trade Organization, a move that requires congressional approval.

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

The House vote took place a day Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy made an emotional speech to Congress – via videolink – appealing for more support. Many lawmakers wore Ukraine flag pins as they voted.

Trade status revocation will allow the Biden administration to impose higher tariffs on Russian and Belarusian imports than the current levels that Washington has pledged to all World Trade Organization member countries.

The measure also would expand the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, easing the imposition of sanctions on Russian officials for human rights violations.

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

“If we do not speak out for human rights because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out for human rights,” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, urging support for the bill.

Republican Representative Victoria Spartz, the only Ukrainian-born member of Congress, said it was important that close Russian ally Belarus was included. “We cannot create a loophole where Putin is going to use Belarus to funnel money through them,” she said. ( Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by David Lawder, Editing by Franklin Paul, Alexandra Hudson)