Russian white house government building at night.

Russia Plans to Exit World Trade Organization and Other Global Bodies

Russia’s plans to quit the WTO follow the decision to remove its “most favoured nation” status in response to its invasion of Ukraine, which led several countries to suspend Moscow’s trade preferences and impose tariffs in excess of what WTO rules typically allow.

June 6, 2022

Russia may sever ties with prominent international bodies including the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Health Organization, saying they have “neglected all obligations toward our country.”

Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy speaker of Russia’s state assembly, or Duma, said membership of these bodies brings no benefit “but instead directly harms our country.” He said Moscow’s Foreign Ministry had sent a list of international organizations to the parliament (Federal Assembly) with orders to review it and break obligations or treaties that damage Russia.

The announcement comes two months after a pro-Kremlin minority party in the Duma drew up a bill calling for Russia to quit the WTO following a decision by a group of countries—including most European nations, Canada, Japan, and the United States—to suspend Moscow’s trade preferences because it invaded Ukraine. Hundreds of Western businesses, from Adidas, McDonald’s, and Pepsi to BP, Renault, British American Tobacco, and Starbucks, have pulled out of Russia to protest the war. Removal of Russia’s “most favoured nation” status means those countries can impose tariffs on Russia in excess of what WTO rules typically allow, in addition to allowing them to sanction Russian companies.

Politico reported that the idea of withdrawing “appears to be a U-turn from the government’s side,” noting that Russia’s WTO mission had written to the news organization in April that “the government provides counter-arguments in support of our membership.”

But Russian President Vladimir Putin said in April that “illegal” sanctions on Russian companies by Western trading partners had violated WTO rules and told his government to “prepare an updated strategy for our actions in the World Trade Organization” by June 1.

It’s not the first time Russia has discussed leaving the WTO, which it joined in 2012 after 19 years of negotiations. Opponents view some WTO terms as unfavourable to Moscow and say they give the West a tool with which to punish the country.

James Bacchus, a professor of global affairs at the University of Central Florida and a former member of the WTO’s Appellate Body, wrote in a March opinion piece that Russia should be expelled from the WTO. Although there is no specific provision in the Marrakesh Agreement that established the WTO, “it is possible for two-thirds of the WTO’s 164 members to alter the rights and obligations of members and—if a member refuses to agree—for three fourths of the members to expel that member from the organization,” he wrote, adding that this option is set out in Article X of the agreement.

WHO members have also pressed the Geneva-based health body—which usually avoids taking a stance on politics—to take action against Russia over the invasion, media including the Daily Mail have reported. On May 10, the WHO’s European Committee adopted a non-binding resolution condemning Russian attacks on Ukrainian health care facilities and the war’s impact on public health. The same resolution urged WHO chiefs to close their Moscow office for non-infectious diseases and relocate it to another country.

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