Expel Russia from the WTO


A field of Gazprom compressors in Russia.


Photo:

Andrei Rudakov/Bloomberg

The expulsion of the Russian Federation from the World Trade Organization should be on the list of economic sanctions used to punish Vladimir Putin. The invasion of Ukraine proved beyond any doubt that the current Russian government is no longer fit to be part of an international trade organization dedicated to the peaceful settlement of disputes.

There is no specific provision of the WTO concerning the expulsion of a member. Expulsion would be possible under Article X of the WTO agreement, however, if two-thirds of the current 164 WTO members vote to amend the deal. If Russia were to refuse to accept the changes, then a three-quarters vote could kick the Russian Federation out.

The legal authority exists. The question is whether the political will exists.

Denying Mr. Putin’s government the benefits of WTO membership would add to the economic leverage needed to force him out. Trade accounts for about a quarter of Russia’s gross domestic product. Losing WTO benefits would prove costly for Mr Putin in his efforts to prop up Russia’s fragile economy, as his government is increasingly and rightly dismissed as a global pariah.

To some extent, other free trade agreements can substitute for some of the benefits of the WTO. But generally, although currently applied tariffs worldwide for WTO members average 9%, a non-member can be subject to unlimited tariffs.

Members of the WTO are protected by the organization’s rules against trade discrimination. Without them, a member can discriminate against a non-member’s trade in any way they choose. WTO members are limited in how strictly they can restrict exports to another member, but non-members could see trade stifled entirely. Iran and North Korea suffer daily from discriminatory trade restrictions because they are not members of the WTO.

President Biden and his administration should lead a charge at the trade organization headquarters in Geneva to kick Mr Putin and his crony government out of the WTO by seeking broad support for an amendment that would disenfranchise the Russian Federation and relieve it of its obligations as a member of the WTO.

When the Russians finally get rid of Mr. Putin and their country comes to their senses, they can return to the embrace of the rules-based global trading system.

Mr. Bacchus is a professor of global affairs at the University of Central Florida and an adjunct fellow at the Cato Institute. Founder and former chief justice of the WTO’s appellate body, he is the author of “Trade Links: New Rules for a New World”, to be published on March 10.

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