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The House approves a bill to suspend trade relations with Russia and Belarus

FILE - Farmers use combines to harvest a wheat field near the village Tbilisskaya, Russia, on July 21, 2021. Russia accounts for 30% of wheat exports, which means that poorer countries that depend on imports could face major supply shocks. (AP Photo/Vitaly Timkiv, File)
Farmers use combines to harvest a wheat field in July 2021 near the village Tbilisskaya, Russia. Russia accounts for 30% of global wheat exports.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation suspending normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus, another move by Congress designed to squeeze Russia's economy as its military continues assaulting Ukraine.

The U.S. currently extends "most favored nation" (MFN) status to all countries but two, North Korea and Cuba.

The White House backs the bill, sponsored by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., and the top Republican on the panel, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas. It gives President Biden authority to increase tariffs on products from the two countries through January 1, 2024. It also suspends Russia's participation in the World Trade Organization. It indicates that the president can restore trade relations if Russia and Belarus cease all aggression against Ukraine, but establishes a process for Congress to block that if it disagrees.

"We must do everything in our power to hold Russia accountable for the atrocities it is committing hourly in the nation of Ukraine," Neal said on the House floor.

Brady noted that there is bipartisan, bicameral support for the effort and that as a result, "American dollars will no longer fund Russia's war machine."

The only lawmaker born in Ukraine, Rep Victoria Spartz, R-Indiana, said the vote was sending a message to the two countries. She noted that the leadership of Belarus allowed Russia to place rockets in their country used to attack Ukraine and that Russia and its allies cannot expect "business as usual."

"If they want to have peace it better be soon, and they better get to the table and stop this insanity in killing of the Ukrainian people," Spartz said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said he wants the Senate to take up the measure soon but has not specified a timeline for action. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.