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Apparently there's a difference of opinion between the White House and Congress on whether to revoke Russia's "permanent normal trade relations" (PNTR) with the US.

What practical difference would it make if the US revoked PNTR for Russia, given that e.g. US oil imports from Russia have been suspended and that Russia retaliated, apparently as much as it could against the US sanctions, by e.g. suspending sales of space rocket engines to the US. (This actually happened before the US move on oil.)

PNTR was granted to Russia relatively recently, in 2012. Apparently, it was done due to Russia joining the WTO that year.

Premise update: since I wrote the above, Biden announced that he does now support revoking PNTR, and that the other G7 countries have agreed to follow suit. Pelosi then announced new legislation to such effect to be introduced on the floor. Biden was somewhat vague on the concrete effects though:

"Revoking PNTR for Russia is going to make it harder for Russia to do business with the United States and doing it in unison with other nations that make up half of the global economy will be another crushing blow to the Russian economy that's already suffering very badly from our sanctions," Biden said.

So, I think my question is still relevant to a good extent.

I'm not entirely sure if this part of the PNTR move or just was announced simultaneously with it, but Biden also announced cutting off Russian seafood imports into the US, worth about $1.2 billion, annually.

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  • Probably even less trade and economic connections between the US and Russia than existing now. And maybe other countries would follow the example. Then the practical difference could become more pronounced. Mar 11, 2022 at 9:58

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A few developed countries have non-MFN tariffs, so in those (like Canada) the decision appears to have some immediate effect:

Removing Russia’s most-favored-nation status without any accompanying measures would be purely symbolic for most WTO members.

That’s because very few WTO countries — like Canada — have blanket tariffs that they fall back on for their trade relations with non-WTO members.

In the case of Canada, which made the move last week, all trade with Russia is now subject to a whopping 35 percent tariff.

But for the EU and many other countries such as New Zealand, those alternative tariffs don’t exist, meaning that suspending MFN is primarily a political gesture while the countries prepare to impose further sanctions.

“The step of formally suspending MFN vis-à-vis Russia is completely unnecessary, it would be purely symbolic, and from a legal viewpoint, meaningless,” said Philippe De Baere, a partner at the law firm Van Bael & Bellis. That’s because “you can take exactly the same measures in the form of sanctions, and sanctions are also justified under Article 21 of the GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade]" for security interests.

On the other hand, for most other countries it seems to be a preparatory step that would allow them to raise tariffs on Russia, but it is unclear why that revocation step is necessary, other than as a political signal. Alas that article doesn't detail if there are any immediate implications in the US, so this is a rather partial answer.

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