The West Can Make Russia a Trade Pariah with a Page from Moscow’s Playbook

February 28, 2022

Policymakers around the world are searching for ways to punish Russian leaders for their aggression in Ukraine. They have generally relied on economic and financial sanctions. But sanctions are an imperfect tool. They can lead to higher prices and limited supplies of various goods and services in the home market, and sanctions may not change the target country’s behavior. A review of U.S. history illuminates an alternative approach, one that may attract the support of other nations.

The U.S. and its allies can deny most-favored-nation status to Russia, as Reps. Lloyd Doggett and Earl Blumenauer have proposed. (The U.S. uses the terminology “normal trade relations” to signify that a nation that has this status isn’t actually more favored than any other nation.) Most-favored nation status is a guiding principle of trade rules. Should the U.S. and other nations deny Russia this status, they will be free to impose tariffs on Russian exports. The cost of Russian goods will rise, making these products more expensive and gradually less desirable. Over time, Russia’s coffers will be harder to fill.

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