Boot Russia From the WTO

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A Gazprom compressor field in Russia.



Photo:

Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

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 has proved beyond doubt that the current Russian government is no longer fit to be part of an international commercial organization committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes.

No specific WTO provision relates to expelling a member. Expulsion would be possible under Article X of the WTO agreement, however, if two-thirds of the WTO’s current 164 members vote to alter the agreement. If Russia were to refuse to accept the changes, then a three-fourths vote could expel the Russian federation.

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 to pull back. Trade accounts for about one-fourth of Russia’s gross domestic product. The loss of WTO benefits would prove costly to Mr. Putin in his effort to prop up Russia’s fragile economy, with his government increasingly and justly shunned as a global pariah.

To some extent, other free-trade agreements can substitute for certain WTO benefits. But generally, although the world’s current applied tariffs for WTO members stand at an average of 9%, a nonmember can be subjected to tariffs that are without limit.

WTO members have the protection of the organization’s rules against trade discrimination. Without them, a member can discriminate against the trade of a nonmember in any way it chooses. WTO members are limited in how strictly they can restrict exports to another member, but nonmembers could have trade choked off entirely. Iran and North Korea suffer from discriminatory trade restrictions every day because they are not members of the WTO.

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

When the Russians at last get rid of Mr. Putin and their country comes back to its senses, they can return to the embrace of the rules-based world trading system.

Mr. Bacchus is a professor of global affairs at the University of Central Florida and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. A founder and former chief judge of the appellate body of the WTO, he is author of “Trade Links: New Rules for a New World,” forthcoming March 10.

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