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US bans import of Russian vodka, seafood and diamonds

Joe Biden announced on Friday that the US plans to ban the import of seafood, vodka and diamonds from Russia in retaliation for Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine.

The US president said the ban would be part of a move by America to revoke normal trading relations, with Russia, also known as “most favored nation” status, with a similar move also expected from allies in the Group of Seven (G7) leading nations and the European Union.

Revoking such trading relations will “make it harder for Russia to do business with the United States”, Biden said and noted that the US was “taking the first steps” to ban imports of Russian “seafood, vodka and diamonds”.

“Putin is the aggressor and Putin must pay a price,” he said.

Biden said the US was also banning the export of luxury goods to Russia, calling it the latest, but “not the last step we’re going to take”.

Stripping most favored nation status from Russia would allow the US and allies to impose higher tariffs on some imports, increasing the isolation of the Russian economy.

It follows days after the Biden moved to ban imports of Russian oil and gas products.

Other measures taken include the freezing of central bank assets, limits on exports and sanctions against Russian oligarchs and their families. These financial tools have led to the Russian rouble losing 76% of its value against the US dollar over the past month, which has caused destructive inflation that could erode Putin’s ability to wage a prolonged war in Ukraine.

Most favored nation status has been a baseline for global trade, ensuring that countries within the World Trade Organization are treated similarly. Some countries in the WTO have special privileges due to their status as developing economies.

Russia would join the ranks of Cuba and North Korea by not having MFN status from the US.

The revocation, however, carries mostly symbolic weight. The earlier sanctions on imports of Russian oil, gas and coal already cut off about 60% of US imports from the country, and the new import bans announced on Friday add up to only about $1bn in revenue, according to White House figures.

Russia provided less than 1% of US vodka imports in December, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the US, and less than 2% of US seafood imports by volume, according to federal statistics.

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