Congress moves to bar Russian energy imports and end favorable trade relations.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers said on Monday that they would move forward with legislation that would ban imports of Russian energy into the United States and suspend normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
The legislation is aimed at inflicting further financial pain on Russia and Belarus, which has been aiding the conflict, by cutting off Russia’s oil exports into the United States and giving President Biden the ability to increase tariffs on products from both countries.
The bipartisan agreement to cut off oil imports adds to growing pressure on Mr. Biden to shut the spigot. Although the United States imports just 7 percent of its oil from Russia, the administration has so far avoided banning imports, in part because of worries that it would further accelerate already-high gas prices. Russia and Belarus are minor trading partners of the United States, though they supply some materials that are crucial for certain industries, including platinum, iron and fertilizer.
On Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the United States was considering a ban on Russian oil imports, sending oil prices higher.
The legislation would also require the Office of the United States Trade Representative to seek Russia’s suspension from the World Trade Organization and try to halt Belarus’s attempt to join the global trade body. The president would be given the authority to restore normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus subject to certain conditions, the lawmakers said.
Whether the legislation can pass Congress and make it to Mr. Biden’s desk remains to be seen, but it has support from House and Senate lawmakers, including several powerful committee chairs.
“As Russia continues its unprovoked attack on the Ukrainian people, we have agreed on a legislative path forward to ban the import of energy products from Russia and to suspend normal trade relations with both Russia and Belarus,” the lawmakers said in a statement.
Those supporting the bill include Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas; Representative Richard E. Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts; Senator Mike Crapo, Republican of Idaho; and Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon.
House Democrats said on Feb. 25 that they were introducing a bill to revoke permanent normal trading relations with Russia, a move that would cause the average tariff the United States applies to Russia goods to rise to about 33 percent from 3 percent. Several other lawmakers have introduced legislation to remove trade preferences for Russia or Belarus or bar the importation of Russian petroleum.
U.S. trade with Russia is limited: Russia ranked 20th in terms of global suppliers of goods to the United States in 2019, sending mainly fuels, platinum and other metals, iron, fertilizer and chemicals. Russia was the United States’ 40th largest export market that year, buying mainly machinery, aircraft, cars and medical instruments.
The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global Economy
Canada last week stripped Russia and Belarus of their most favored nation treatment, leaving those countries facing a 35 percent tariff to send products into Canada. The European Union and the United States have been considering similar measures.
Congress has the authority to revoke preferential trading relations, but it’s unclear whether the United States and Europe would be able to force Russia out of the W.T.O. The 164-member trade body is designed to function on consensus and typically requires approval from all its members. James Bacchus, a former W.T.O. official, has argued that the group does have a path toward doing this, if the majority of its members agree to alter their charter.
The global trade body that preceded the W.T.O., called the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, expelled Serbia and Montenegro in 1992 after their invasion of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Congress revoked normal trading relations with Serbia and Montenegro that same year. But the system has not undergone a similar test since the W.T.O. was formed in 1995.