WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is removing special trade benefits for Russia because the country is too economically advanced to need them and Moscow's involvement in Ukraine made it an appropriate time to take the step, the White House announced Wednesday.
Obama notified Congress that he plans to remove Russia from the Generalized System of Preferences program, which gave Moscow a $544 million break on import taxes in 2012 on products ranging from metals and minerals to tires and ceramic wares.
The program, which allowed $19.9 billion in imports to enter the U.S. duty-free in 2012, is designed to help developing countries boost their economy through trade. The program expired in July 2013, but the Obama administration supports legislation under consideration in Congress to extend it.
The White House says Russia's removal will mean its goods will be subject to normal tariff rates once Obama issues a proclamation, which can be no sooner than 60 days from congressional notification.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Russia was set to be eliminated from the program on Jan. 1, 2016, after being upgraded to high-income status by the World Bank last year, but Obama decided to move forward ahead of schedule. "Russia's actions regarding Ukraine, while not directly related to the president's decision regarding Russia's eligibility for GSP benefits, make it particularly appropriate to take this step now," she said.
The announcement comes on the day that Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country has pulled troops back from the border it shares with Ukraine. But the White House was skeptical of the claim.
"We would certainly welcome a meaningful and transparent withdrawal of Russian military forces from the border," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. "That's something that we have sought for quite some time. I will say that, to date, there's been no evidence that such a withdrawal has taken place."
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