US restores of Ukraine’s trade privileges

The Trump administration reinstated some of Ukraine’s trade privileges late Friday, restoring benefits to the eastern European country that had been delayed since August.

The White House said it suspended Ukraine’s ability to export some products to the U.S. on a duty-free basis in December 2017 over worries regarding intellectual property rights.

President Trump said in a proclamation announcing the change involving Ukraine on Friday that he had "determined that Ukraine has made progress in providing adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights."

In a statement to The Washington Post, the White House said that the restoration of some trade privileges, which was signed after Ukraine passed a law in 2018 addressing some of the concerns, would impact roughly a third of the goods.

Besides restoring trade rights to Ukraine, the administration decided to revoke trade benefits for Thailand and put privileges for South Africa and Azerbaijan under review, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The paperwork from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was expected to be routinely completed in August, but then-national security adviser John Bolton reportedly warned Lighthizer that Trump would likely oppose any assistance to Kiev.

The delay came at the same time as White House efforts to push Ukraine to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the president’s chief political foes who is running for president in 2020.

The announcement of the restoration of trade privileges came a day after the exchange between Lighthizer and Bolton was reported. The conversation suggested that the Trump administration’s efforts to lobby Kiev to investigate Biden went beyond holding up the $400 million in security-related aid.

“Ukraine welcomes the U.S. decision to restore trade privileges for our country. Big step forward in strengthening our economic partnership,” the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington said in a statement. “It was very important to reaffirm Ukraine’s strong commitments and stable progress with the respect to the intellectual property rights.”

The Post reported that the restoration of trade privileges to Ukraine would have happened earlier if it weren’t for Bolton’s August warning.

“It was pulled back shortly before it was going to POTUS’s desk,” one administration official told The Post. “Bolton intervened with Lighthizer to block it.”

It was not immediately clear if Trump directed or was even aware of the conversation between Bolton and Lighthizer.

The decision to delay the trade restoration coincided with the White House’s withholding of $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine, which Democrats allege in their impeachment investigation was tied to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s compliance with Trump's requests to investigate Biden.

Trump has maintained that his July 25 call with Zelensky, a rough transcript of which showed that Trump repeatedly asked Ukraine to investigate the former vice president, was “perfect” and contained no quid pro quo.

However, William Taylor, who serves as the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, testified Tuesday that he believed Trump withheld the military aid until he secured a commitment from Zelensky that the Ukrainian president would launch probes into Biden and 2016 election meddling.