US lawmakers are putting forward legislation aimed at denying Russia access to World Trade Organization (WTO) membership following its invasion of Ukraine.
Congressmen Lloyd Doggett, chair of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, and Earl Blumenauer, chair of the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, are behind the move.
“In seeking multiple ways to respond to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, we should close every possible avenue for Russian participation in the world economy,” Doggett said.
The legislation is based on a measure previously used in 1992 in response to Serbian aggression.
If the Doggett-Blumenauer bill passed, it would remove "most favored nation" trade treatment for Russian imports, leaving exporters from the country exposed to tariffs and other trade barriers.
The lawmakers said in a statement that the United States must use every tool at its disposal, short of armed conflict, to protect Ukraine’s independence.
"As Putin undermines the stability carefully built since World War II, he and his oligarch pals should not benefit from the trading system created to ensure that stability and peace," they said.
Dennis Unkovic, a US corporate lawyer, trade expert and author of "Transforming the Global Supply Chain", doubts the effectiveness and speed of any such sanction even if the lawmakers' proposals can be passed into law.
"It sounds to me like something that is not imminent because every time a country gets mad at another country they'd say kick them out of the WTO," he told IntraFish.
Unkovic may have a point.
Although a WTO spokesperson was unavailable at the time of writing, IntraFish was referred to a blogpost written by Peter Ungphakorn, who previously worked at the WTO Secretariat and is now an occasional freelance journalist focused mainly on international trade.
If the US legislation were to be implemented, Ungphakorn wrote, it would violate a rule in the first article of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which covers trade in goods for WTO members.
However, the first article does have an exception for national security, which could offer a pathway to Russia's ejection, he noted.
Trade lawyer Simon Lester said that the legislation is fairly straightforward on the US side, but more complicated in other countries.
The process for kicking Russia out of normal "most favored nation" treatment will depend on each country's domestic legal system. While many countries may be willing to do so, others may not.
"With regard to condemning Russia at the WTO, maybe a few countries will agree to this, but I can imagine many countries arguing that the WTO is not the right forum for this," Lester wrote in a commentary on the development.
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