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Biden calls for ending normal trade relations with Russia

The move would allow the White House to slap tariffs on Russian goods.
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Friday called on Congress to join the European Union and the Group of Seven industrial nations in suspending normal trade relations with Russia, allowing new tariffs to be imposed in response to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

In a speech, Biden said the U.S. will also ban imports of Russian diamonds, seafood and vodka, denying Moscow more than $1 billion in export revenues, according to a White House estimate.

"Putin is the aggressor," Biden said. "And Putin must pay a price."

Revoking normal trade relations, which requires congressional action in the United States, would end Russia’s status as a “most favored nation,” a classification within the World Trade Organization that exempts a country from tariffs.

The move comes as the U.S. and its European allies have hit Russia with round after round of economic sanctions in an effort to squeeze Russian President Vladimir Putin. The International Monetary Fund is predicting that Russia will plunge into a “deep recession” this year.

“As Putin continues his merciless assault, the United States and our allies and partners continue to work in lockstep to ramp up the economic pressures on Putin and to further isolate Russia on a global stage,” Biden said. 

The president said he would also sign an executive order banning U.S. exports of high-end goods frequently purchased by Russian elites, including watches, luxury vehicles, clothing and jewelry. The White House estimated that the value of the luxury items covered by the ban is $550 million per year.

Biden said that he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier Friday morning and reiterated his support for the country.

Revoking trade relations with Russia is likely to get bipartisan support in Congress. Earlier this week, the House passed legislation on a 414-17 vote that banned imports of Russian oil and energy products and took steps to review Russia’s World Trade Organization participation.

Biden thanked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Friday for agreeing to hold off on ending normal trade relations with Russia until Biden said he could “line up all of our key allies to keep us in complete unison.”

“Many issues divide us in Washington. But standing for democracy in Ukraine, pushing [back against] Russia’s aggression, should not be one of those issues,” Biden said. “A free world is coming together to confront Putin.”

In his speech, Biden said that ending normal trade relations would make it harder for Russia to do business with the U.S., and that coordinating the decision with other nations "will be another crushing blow to the Russian economy."

Still, it was unclear how much of an impact the move will have. Russia is not one of the U.S.’s top trading partners. Russia’s exports to the United States totaled $29 billion in 2021 and in it ranked as the 26th largest goods trading partner in 2019.

Top imports from Russia include oil and gas products — which the U.S. has already banned — as well as precious metal and stone, iron and steel, fertilizers and inorganic chemicals.