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26 October, 2019

Trump reinstates duty-free trade with Ukraine on some items

Robert Lighthizer, the White House trade representative, had held up the reinstatement of free-trade treatment on some Ukrainian goods

U.S. President Donald Trump has reinstated duty-free treatment with Ukraine on certain items following a suspension in 2017, the White House says.

In a proclamation on October 25, Trump said he had in December 2017 suspended duty-free rights for certain Ukrainian goods because Kyiv was not properly protecting intellectual property rights.

But he said he was reinstating the duty-free treatment because Ukraine had made progress on the issue.

According to the U.S. Trade Representative's (USTR) office, the reinstatement affects about one-third of the $36 million in trade benefits that had originally been suspended for Ukraine.

The move comes at a time when Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have begun an investigation that could lead to the impeachment of Trump, mainly focusing on his dealings with Kyiv.

The inquiry focuses on a July 25 call Trump made to his Ukrainian counterpart in which he asks Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and son Hunter, who had business dealings in Ukraine. Joe Biden is a leading candidate to oppose Trump in the 2020 election.

Democrats claim Trump pressured Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens by threatening to withhold approved military aid and by dangling a potential White House visit for the Ukrainian leader in return for an investigation into Trump’s political opponents.

Trump has denied he did anything wrong. There is no evidence that Biden was involved in any wrongdoing related to Ukraine.

U.S. media have also reported that trade privileges were also being withheld from Ukraine, allegedly to pressure Kyiv.

The Washington Post on October 24 cited people briefed on the matter as saying White House trade representative Robert E. Lighthizer withdrew a recommendation to restore some of Ukraine’s trade privileges in late August after John Bolton, then-national security adviser, warned him that Trump probably would oppose any action that benefited the government in Kyiv.

However, The Washington Post quoted an unnamed administration official as saying the presidential proclamation about the trade status of Ukraine, along with two other countries, was being held up for several weeks as part of a routine “country review process.”

Trump has taken a hard line on trade with several countries and blocs, claiming that deals unfair to the United States had been made in the past. He has initiated tariffs against several nations' products, including China and the countries of the European Union.

The president's proclamation also said he had suspended duty-free treatment of certain Thai products because that country had not taken steps to "afford workers in Thailand internationally recognized worker rights."

Washington is also reviewing duty-free treatment for certain products from Azerbaijan over workers' rights concerns.

A separate review of goods from Uzbekistan was closed without changes, the USTR said.


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