- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2022

Congress on Thursday gave final approval to a suspension of normal trade relations with Moscow, giving President Biden broader leeway to slap tariffs on Russian products and further weaken Russia’s economy as punishment for invading Ukraine.

The bill revokes Russia’s permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status. It is part of broad trade restrictions imposed in coordination with the European Union and Group of Seven countries.

“Today, the Congress took strong action to hold Russia accountable for its unprovoked, premeditated war against Ukraine,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said on Twitter.  “By again voting to ban the import of Russian oil and suspend normal trade relations, the House is sending to [President Biden’s] desk additional action to isolate Russia.”

The measure had hit a snag in the Senate last month over a Republican push to combine the trade bill with a separate House-passed measure to codify Mr. Biden’s ban on Russian oil. Earlier Thursday, the Senate passed the two bills separately, sending the new versions to the House for final passage.

“No nation whose military is committing war crimes deserves free trade status with the United States,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said moments before the vote.

The Senate’s final vote was also tied up by objections from Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, over language in the bill that he said gives the president overly broad sanctions authority under the Global Magnitsky Act.

The Magnitsky Act is a law passed in 2016 to crack down on human-rights abuses.

The House passed both bills by overwhelming margins. The oil ban passed 413-9 and the trade bill passed 420-3.

The U.S. previously took steps to ban Russian energy imports, including oil and liquified natural gas, along with other goods such as seafood and alcohol. The suspension of PNTR promises to tighten the squeeze on the Russian economy, even though the U.S. is not a major destination for Russian goods.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden announced a new round of financial sanctions against Russia that targeted the adult children of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

The new sanctions were levied after evidence of Russian war crimes surfaced in Bucha, near Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

More than 600 Russian individuals and businesses have been hit with sanctions since the war began, the White House said.

The measure targeting Russia’s trade relations status would slap increased tariffs on Russian goods ranging from enriched uranium to crabs.

According to U.S. trade data, Russian imports accounted for approximately 1% of imported foreign goods in 2021. Still, certain U.S. industries could be heavily impacted.

“For example, in 2021, certain titanium products (used by the aerospace industry) accounted for roughly 53% of total U.S. imports of similar products,” a Congressional Research Services report said. “Without PNTR, the duty rate for these products would increase from 15% to 45%. Based on the 2021 dutiable value of those products, U.S. importers would pay an additional $32.4 million in duties.”

• This story is based in part on wire service reports.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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