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Rep. Neal trade bill aims to increase pressure on Russia

President Biden would be authorized to increase tariffs on products of Russia and Belarus under legislation introduced Thursday by Congressman Richard Neal of Springfield and described as another method of punishing Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, over its ongoing war on Ukraine.

Under the bill, normal trade relations would be suspended with both Russia and its neighbor, Belarus, and Biden would be authorized to increase product tariffs until Jan. 1, 2024. The U.S. currently extends normal trade relations (NTR), also called most-favored-nation treatment, to all but two countries — Cuba and North Korea. Duties on imports from a country without NTR status are set at higher levels.

Neal, who chairs the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, announced his bill with the ranking Republican member of that powerful committee, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas. In a statement, Neal and Brady said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's virtual remarks to Congress on Wednesday "strengthened our resolve to further isolate and weaken Putin."

"This legislation builds on last week's energy import ban to inflict even greater economic pain on the Russian regime and its enablers. We must do all we can to hold Putin accountable for senselessly attacking the Ukrainian people and undermining global stability," they said. "The suspension of normal trade relations is an essential part of our effort to restore peace, save lives, and defend democracy."

The bill also requires the U.S. Trade Representative to "use the voice and influence" of the United States to seek suspension of Russia's participation in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Under the bill, Biden would be able to restore normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus if certain conditions are met.

On March 11, Neal issued a statement saying he was "glad" that Biden had voiced support for suspending normal trade relations with Russia and said, "there is bipartisan agreement on this matter in Congress, and many of our allies and partners around the world are taking similar actions."

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